Why I stopped blogging and started journalling . . . and why I’m now doing both

The problem with blogging

I’ve blogged on and off for a few years.

I used to write a blog called Really Practical Criticism, where I did “close readings of modern life” (that was 2011-12). And then more recently I just wrote updates on my minor successes as an aspiring writer, like when I got published in a magazine or something (around 2013-14).

Then I just stopped. To be honest, I didn’t really see the point in blogging: it takes a long time, a lot of effort to maintain, and not many people were reading what I was writing.

The fact is, in a blog you write for an audience, and not only do you edit and revise your work to interest or impress them, you also self-censor before you even start writing. Personally I ended up double-guessing and overthinking. Instead of using it as a way to exercise my creativity in a relaxed way, I would end up asking myself: what should I write about, what would interest people, how can I make this more interesting, etc, etc?

It wasn’t that I didn’t have any ideas; I had tonnes of thoughts and I also had the desire to say things honestly and clearly, but didn’t feel comfortable expressing them through this medium.

The benefits of journalling

So this time last year (Sunday 2nd August 2015 to be precise) I started writing a journal instead.

I didn’t set out to journal, it just started naturally. I happened to be travelling on a long train journey for work, and had a notebook and pen on me. I was annoyed about not being able to find enough time to write my novel, and so I basically scribbled down a long rant about it.

Then over the following weeks I wrote my thoughts about books and magazines I was reading, kind of like ‘literary criticism lite’. I also wrote about my novel: trying to articulate the plot and characters, or just venting the troubles I was having with it.

Within a year, I have filled five notebooks with thoughts on books, writing, relationships, work, life, basically whatever interests me at that time.

Writing a private journal solves all of the problems that I had with blogging: there’s no self-censorship, no audience, just my own small thoughts. I write whenever I want – sometimes with a fortnight gap, and then sometimes twice in one day. It’s inspiration-based.

If you haven’t tried it, I would seriously recommend it. Just pick up a pen and paper and write whatever comes into your head. You’ll be amazed what you end up writing, and the act of articulating your priorities and problems will help you understand them better too.

The problems with journalling

As you might have guessed, my decision to start journalling came out of a bigger desire to become more self-aware. At the same time, I was lucky enough to get onto a development course at work, which meant I had my own coach and mentor who were posing loads of intriguing questions to me. So most of my thinking during the past year was focused on how I could understand and improve myself. If you’d asked me at any point what the key to life was, I’d say self-awareness. And journalling was a key part of my self-awareness.

But then I started having my doubts. This summer I happened to be reading The Sportswriter by Richard Ford: it’s a great book, but the narrator is a frustrating guy. He is passive, non-committal, numb and cynical – everything that I was trying to avoid being.

But then I started to understand his philosophy. What he’s critical of is people who take a reductionist approach to life, especially writers and teachers. He talks a lot about when he was “seeing around”, by which he means being distanced from his own feelings and trying to analyse and objectify them. The better alternative is actually to be “fully in your emotions, when they are simple enough to be in” and to “relinquish and stop worrying”.

All of this got me thinking: is journalling actually the right thing to do? I had been labouring under the impression that my attempts were well-guided and noble, but what if they weren’t? What if in reality I was just feeding and fuelling my neurotic desire to be in control of situations, to analyse ‘objectively’, to create my own private forum in which I was always right—when in reality I would be better off trying to live authentically and “be in” my feelings rather than “seeing around” them?

What next?

This is all a long way of saying that writing in a journal is great, but it’s not everything. In many ways, being introspective means being isolated. Explaining means explaining away. And that thinking you’re self-aware shows a real lack of self-awareness.

And in many ways, I missed having that dialogue with the outside world. Maybe instead of marshalling my thoughts on private things, I could be blogging ideas about media and copywriting and design and other things that interest me. If form determines content, teh medium of blogging would make space for new ideas. (It might also make me a more light-hearted person, lol.)

So now that I am going back to agency life professionally, I want to be more extroverted and outgoing in my writing – and intend to start blogging more regularly, as well as journalling whenever the inspiration takes me.

Do you journal and/or blog? What do you think?

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I finished my novel! (Well, the first draft)

I’m very happy and relieved to say that I finally finished the first draft of my novel today!

That’s right. After a false start in 2014 and then about year of concerted concentration, my novel English Interiors has now got a beginning, a middle and an end. So I decided to celebrate by printing it all out in this big wad of literary loveliness.

img_0016 Excellent news, I know. Thanks very much. You’re too kind.

Now I know there are tonnes of problems with it which I need to sort out, including the fact that characters’ names and personalities change throughout (or they just disappear entirely), and there are pages and pages of longueurs, and the pivotal middle section is an incoherent mess.

I also need to ask myself some pretty fundamental questions like: is this one novel or a trilogy? It weighs in at 240,000 words (which is about 800–1000 pages) so I either need to cut it in half somehow, or split it into three.

In fact, I know that the second draft is probably going to be longer and harder than this one – next I need to figure out what it’s actually about, how it all fits together, how to cut out extraneous scenes and how to make the language sing.

But for now I’m just going to breathe and relax and enjoy the fact that my first draft exists.

Anyway – regardless of what happens in the future, this is the most rewarding thing I have done. Ever. (Maybe.) It’s the only thing in my life that I am completely responsible for, and that I can take all the credit for. I’m massively proud of the fact that I had a goal and stuck with it.

I hate cheesy quotes, but a few months back when I wanted to ditch the whole thing, one of them spurred me on:

You only fail if you don’t try, not if you don’t succeed.

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Sketch-tober: my 30 day challenge

Hi. So last month I watched a TED talk about 30 day challenges and decided to do one during October. The thinking is that you can do most things once a day for thirty days, and it’s a chance to try something new and develop skills.

So I’ve been doing a sketch every day for the past month (apparently October has 31 days. Who knew?!) hence the name Sketch-tober.

You can see more highlights of the challenge below…

Longbenton station
Longbenton station

I’ve always liked drawing, but have never been particularly good at it. And for the past few years I haven’t felt it worth my while to draw in my free time. But I wanted to see what I would come up with if I made myself draw something every day.

Overall it’s been a massively enjoyable adventure, for only 5-20 minutes a day. Looking back at what I’ve sketched, I’m pretty happy with my detailed pen drawings of buildings – as I’ve managed to get the proportions and lighting right.

In terms of the ‘woah’ moments – I found the drawings that I connected with most were the ones drawn completely from imagination. These ended up like deeply symbolic and metaphorical sketches which have shown me that I’m currently really interested in topics like surface/depth, the subconscious and the subtexts of situations.

What do you think? Have you done any 30-day challenges?

Just click on any picture to see the slideshow…

The two times I got paid for my writing

That’s right, paid! After writing free articles for free student newspapers, and free short stories for free magazines, and doing free interviews and reviews for free – in the past year I’ve been paid twice for writing something.

So now you know that it’s not a vicious rumour that writers can get paid. Ah, but nor is it some cash-filled nirvana where you and J. K. Rowling and Stephen King just sit around writing words as money kerchings into your pockets.

This is the reality of getting paid, or at least for me it was:

1. The first time I got paid for my writing was when I self-published my first novel, Banes of Boys and Girls, on Kindle and Nook. It was the summer of 2013: they were the hottest months on record, Rolf Harris was still a national hero, and beards were still cool. And into the swell I plopped my little homegrown handmade coming-of-age novel (which had been turned down by agents the previous summer). I didn’t expect it to earn me thousands, but here are the (depressing) maths…

My debut novel

I sold 114 units at either £1 or for free through Amazon’s promotions tool. Then minus fees by Amazon and Barnes & Noble of up to 70% per unit. Then I was left with… 

Total = £22.80

2. The second time I got paid for my writing was when I submitted an article to The Writer magazine. I had kept in touch with Cathryn Summerhayes at WME, one of the agents who I contacted with my novel (see above if you’ve forgotten already or are reading from the bottom of the page upwards – weirdo). And by “kept in touch” I mean “pestered with intermittent emails”. I asked Cathryn if I could interview her about being an agent and what she looks for in submissions. Short story: the interview happened, I submitted it all over the shop, and The Writer magazine picked it up.

Now here’s the good bit… When The Writer accepted the interview they sent me a freelancer contract which said I was getting paid $400 (something like £233) for it. I figured it was some sort of bizarre practical joke, but the piece went in print and I got paid. Needless to say I submitted another piece to them again.

Total = £233

The moral of the story is that you can get paid for writing. The other morals of the story are that you might not get paid as much as you want or need. And that the amount you get paid probably won’t match the effort you put into it. (Unless you think writing an interview is harder than a novel. Again – weirdo)

Have you been paid for writing anything recently/ever? What do you think? (No need to divulge bank details.)

My interview with Richard Milward

My interview with novelist Richard Milward is in the May edition of Bookslut. You can read it here: http://www.bookslut.com/features/2014_05_020639.phpmilward

 

Richard is the writer behind novels like Apples (2007), Ten Storey Love Song (2009) and Kimberly’s Capital Punishment (2012), who I was lucky enough to meet at a pub in Middlesbrough last Christmas. He told me about his next novel The Headaches, gave some great advice about writing, and was generally a good laugh.

Let me know what you think…?

“Don’t give up until you’re five years dead”: my interview with Mike Di Placido

Recently I was lucky enough to get an interview with Yorkshire poet, Mike Di Placido. He’s a really interesting guy – as you’d expect from his name, him being an ex-professional footballer, and his poem about a vacuum cleaner!Fringe-Valley-Press-Logo-200x200

You can read here my review of his first collection A Sixty-Watt Las Vegas... Or just buy it from Valley Press already, for god sake…

But for now, here’s a sneak peak of the interview, in all of its writerly glory:

In your first full collection, A Sixty-Watt Las Vegas, you seem to play a lot of roles: literary muser, romantic, social commentator, stand-up comic, to name a few. When you write poems, are you in a particular mood?

Well, I suppose the first thing to say, on writing poems, is that not many poems arrive fully-formed, although I always know exactly which ideas I want to pursue, otherwise I wouldn’t have jotted down the initial word or lines at all. I joke about my wallet being my filing cabinet, what with ideas, words and subject matter jotted down as they arrive on bits of paper! After that, the poem, which can be about absolutely anyone or anything, simply dictates the process. There is no set mood, other than a determination to be true to the subject matter and the tone of voice which it dictates, and which can be, and I hope often is, various.

I have spent years in writing classes, too. Here, the process is the same, just concentrated and more intense because of time limits, and I try not to think too much but just go for it. I usually find that even if I don’t produce the beginnings of a poem, many ideas are generated to work on later. One could muse on the existence of The Muse, but I like to keep things simple! I suppose being open to whatever is there is as good a definition as anything. The tone is dictated by that, as well as the characters and situations that one inhabits, so to speak . . .

Enjoy? Read the full interview here

Revolution is in the air! (And on your Kindle)

I co-edited the March issue of Myths of the Near Future magazine, an online literary magazine by under-25s. You can download it now onto any Kindle reader for less than £2, or just search “Myths of the Near Future Revolution”.

MythsCover_REVOLUTIONFINAL_01f44a94

 

It’s the first time I’ve edited a literary magazine, but was great fun and filled with new experiences. We held a launch event and open-mic event as part of the 2014 Student Writers’ Toolkit hosted by Writing West Midlands, and we were lucky enough to get an interview with one of Granta’s Best Novelists 2013 and John Llewellyn Rhys Prize winner, Evie Wyld. Plus there’s an article on Modernism in there, and an interview with me!

Here’s a sneak peak from my interview…

“What were you looking for in terms of style?” 

“Good question! I suppose it was the same as with any poem or short story, I went into it looking for literature that had impact. Hence the choice of ‘revolution’ as the theme, as it encourages writers to make work which is about urgency and immediacy and which is tense. I think this kind of impact is a real strength of writers under-25, where emotions are still very raw. We got through some incredible pieces, across poetry and fiction. I particularly love some lines from Richy Campbell’s poems, as he has really compact, economical couplets which are also kind of emotionally stunted: “Pigeons peck at pave-squashed gum,/hop tiles as I stagger to mid-platform.” On the other side, I’m awe of the emotional intensity of the pieces by Eliot Mason, those free-form poems which are all about repetition and disgust in the modern world, and with moody refrains like “enjoy it now/the revolution is about to start”. I tend to be more of a short fiction fan, so co-editing this issue has kind of opened my eyes too as to the diversity of great literature out there. As the wide range of work we’ve got in Myths shows, it’s not really about the style of the piece but about how well the words work semantically and poetically to create that impact.”

We are currently looking for submissions for issue 4 on the theme of ‘Money‘.