Valentine’s Day – half a dozen ideas

How did you do? Did ideas flood into your writer’s mind, or did you get stuck?

Cake on Valentine's Day
Romantic cake – too tempting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll time myself and see how I do in 60 seconds – I have no idea…

1. er… blank brain.

1. 20 secs gone…

1. 35 secs…

1. 45 secs…

1. Next door neighbours, boy and girl both called Valentine

2. too late…

It’s not easy. I’m usually full of them, but under pressure, when you’re challenged to think of ideas then and there, the mind goes blank. My mind goes blank.

The only idea I produced was a true fact – a couple who lived in our village were both called Valentine. They were married for ever, so something worked. But as an idea for a novel, it’s weaker than my will in the face of cheesecake.

Ideas don’t usually come to order, at least when the thinking brain is in control. When the left (thinking) brain is distracted or ignored, the right (creative) brain lets loose. I’ll see what pops up as the day goes on, when I’m cooking lunch or booking my flight home.

I need someone to do my thinking for me, so my imagination can run away with itself.

Is this you, too? Or do you create by logic?



“I’m not creative…”

A woman I met in Escondido – a smart, clued-in, driven business woman – told me this, with conviction. Made me want to cry, seeing her belief, and the sadness behind it.

She’s not alone – I’ve heard variations on this theme everywhere from Manchester to Malibu – and it’s absolutely not true. And, you’ll understand, a serious loss to individuals, to business, to the economy and the world in general. Creativity is a given – a gift we all have – but often the gift we never unwrap.

Are you aware that creativity is hard-wired into humans? It’s the gift of our evolved brains to compensate for the loss of physical and subtle mental capacities of other mammals. What we call talent, or flair, or special gift is just the blatant, early demonstration of one particular ability. Mozart, Byron, Mendelssohn, Boris Becker, Leonardo (da Vinci, and possibly de Caprio), Shirley Temple, Usain Bolt, Pavarotti, John Lennon…

Do you realize, though, that each of us can find the talent lurking inside us, even if it’s not of world-stunning levels. I’m no Matisse, but I discovered that I had the potential to draw well… when I was almost forty. If I’d studied and practised, maybe I’d have reached some kind of standard: a very long way short of the French master, but competent and pleasing. I had a passable singing voice when I was a child, but became too afraid of singing after a decade of being told to shut up, and that was that. More fool me for listening, of course, but perhaps you recognize the scenario? My sister had great promise as a writer (I discovered school notebooks full of stories), but her dyslexia wasn’t diagnosed till she was nearly 50 and she grew up believing she was thick.

How many people do you know have lost or abandoned an early promise because their teachers or parents or circumstances demanded a focus on “a proper job”?

Do you want to unwrap your gift now? Better late than never – and it’s never too late. Mary Wesley wasn’t published till she was 70, and she had a long string of best-selling novels through her last two decades. I was 40 when I wrote my first bit of fiction (since I was 12, anyway), and I won a best-business-journalist award with it. You will know of other examples, I have no doubt.

Make 2013 the year you discover your talent for creativity. Make 2013 the year you start your novel, your screenplay, your opera, your art. Make the time to unwrap your gift, at long last, and understand how rich a gift you have.

There are workshops coming up in Brasov (Romania) and various venues in the UK in March, too. Details here.

Whre do you get your ideas, Oceanside, fiction writing course, fiction, talent, creative writing course, creativity
Usain Bolt’s talent is undeniable. But do you realise what a gift you may have locked up inside you?
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The novella is back – and this time it means business

With the rise and rise of the e-reader – Kindles and the like – we have seen the return of the novella as online fiction-buyers demand stories shorter than a fully-fledged novel, but longer than a short story.  Enter… the novella.

But what is it?

To encourage entries for its novella competition, the Paris Literary Review gave its readers some links to explore the art of novella. [Please note: the competition is closed for 2012 but you have 352 days to get your entry polished for the 2013 Prize. More details here.]

According to the Encylopaedia Britannica: “Novella, short and well-structured narrative, often realistic and satiric in tone, that influenced the development of the short story and the novel throughout Europe. Originating in Italy during the Middle Ages, the novella was based on local events that were humorous, political, or amorous in nature; the individual tales often were gathered into collections along with anecdotes, legends, and romantic tales. Writers such as Giovanni Boccaccio, Franco Sacchetti, and Matteo Bandello later developed the novella into a psychologically subtle and highly structured short tale, often using a frame story to unify the tales around a common theme.”

In a Guardian article (here) about Julian Barnes’s “short novel” The sense of an ending, Stephen King was quoted as condemning the novella thus: “an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic”.

The novella as literary form is discussed in The Daily Beast by Taylor Antrim (here), as does Bliss Kern in Three Quarks Daily (here), but quoting the arch storyteller Edgar Allen Poe’s scorning of the literary novella’s reluctance to end itself.

So is the novella the sole preserve of the literary author? If it is now, it soon won’t be. Some years ago as part of a campaign to get more people reading, the QuickReads series was launched, with bestselling authors writing novellas, aka short novels, for the romance, crime and other genre markets.

On e-book download sites there are many thousands of short novels, not proclaimed as such, but boasting 40,000-60,000 words for those who want a quick, easy read. As long as they are priced right, they sell.

So if you’re contemplating a first book, don’t quail at the thought of a 100,000-word doorstop tome;  kick off with a novella. Or a short novel. Or a long short story. Make up your own rules – who cares, if the story’s good?

How not to help a procrastinator

Project 365 #128: 080509 The Art of Procrastin...
Project 365 #128: 080509 The Art of Procrastination (Photo credit: comedy_nose)

I’ve just read another article purporting to solve the procrastinator’s problem. The answer? Get on with it.

If the writer were within throttling distance, she’d have gasped her last by now.

WE KNOW. We know. Yes, thanks. We know.

“Do or do not. There is no ‘try’.” Yeah, cheers, Yoder, we know that too. That, of course, is a different problem to procrastination, but it’s another reason to defer the moment of failure.

Is that what it is? Is that why we do anything – laundry, pruning, defleaing the dog, VAT returns… anything to avoid the moment of truth.

What are we so scared of?

Is failure what terrifies us? That if we write the novel, finish the screenplay, submit it… that we’ll be rejected? I know two people who are so terrified of the rejection slip that they simply will not submit a manuscript to an agent or an editor, happy to write for its own sake. Is that you, too?

I think my personal neurosis is actually fear of success, not failure. What if Spielberg called? What if Harper Collins asked me to lunch? Gawd help me, I’d have to follow through. I’d have to do what I said I could do, and then I might earn pots of money and be a household name and… that would be awful.

Awful! Why? Because nice middle-class English girls aren’t rich and famous, they’re decorative and pleasing and the rock-like support for their cleverer, wiser husbands. And if I succeeded, against the rules, I’d surely be found out as a fraud, a fake, a nice middle-class English girl out of her depth…

*screech of brakes* Hang on, where did that come from? Am I going through blog therapy? That’s all such nonsense. But alarm bells are ringing. Is that stuff what’s holding me back? Am I so firmly chained to my upbringing? Someone – show me to a shrink.

The point is… you need to know why you procrastinate before you can knock it on the head. What are you scared of? Failure? Success? Rejection? Mass approval? I’m not suggesting you sign up for a six-month course of therapy, but it might be worth having a bit of a think. Procrastination usually comes from some long-held, deep-seated and often irrational belief that we can’t overcome. All too commonly it’s about not being good enough, which works whether you’re scared of failure or success – one takes longer than the other, that’s all.

So to hell with the ‘get on with it’ brigade. Delve into your most embarrassing hang-ups and find out what’s scaring you. Hold it up to the light and see if it’s a sensible fear, with any power at all. Almost certainly it won’t be. When you see the big rancid toothy dragon in the bright light of day, you see that it’s more like a three-inch gecko. No teeth, no claws, scared witless of you and longing to scuttle back under a nice dark rock. So let it go scuttling off. Bye, bye, irrational fear.

Then you can get on with it, no dragons breathing down your neck.

Are you a procrastinator? Is it fear of failure or fear of success that paralyses you?