Category Archives: Creativity

Gauging Progress

We’ve looked at what constitutes success in a few old threads, including these:

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https://paulpens.cloudaccess.host/wp-admin/post.php?post=124&action=edit

But, I was recently reading an article by writing guru Jane Friedman, where she said that “The only true measure of a book’s success is sales”.

Strictly speaking, she’s correct, for any artist creating a piece of work to be sold to the public is entering commerce. Films are judged by their box office receipts, paintings become treasures by reaching stratospheric auction prices, a musician’s sales are proof of their talent (or their publicist’s marketing skills), so why shouldn’t a writer’s progress as a writer be measured by sales?

But, that ignores the writer’s relationship with their stories, the struggle they went through to get the ideas onto the page. It’s an achievement to write a book. Many say that they want to, but do nothing about it. We work alone, though the support of friends, family and writing group members is a comfort. But, we’re still alone, unsure of where we’re going, so how do we gauge our progress?

Looking at my efforts since I returned to creative writing in 2013, I’ve typed about 2,000,000 words, some of which worked as story-telling. I’ve self-published 48 titles of short stories, novellas, poetry and song lyrics, arousing little interest in readers. I’ve completed five novels in my Cornish Detective series, querying agents 750 times, which has increased the depth of my hide. I may finally have piqued the interest of a publisher, who asked for a full manuscript this summer. I’m waiting on them. I’m ready to self-publish on Amazon’s KDP Select should they say ‘No’.

I’ve also started this writing blog and a website devoted to my Cornish Detective. Somehow, that didn’t feel like progress, more like putting scaffolding into place for a house of stories that few may visit.

I’m not sure if I’m sanguine or cynical about the business of publishing. I do know that it’s best not to take myself too seriously when receiving rejections.

I love writing stories. It’s joyful for me. In the last six years, I’ve learned a lot about technique and punctuation, which is progress, but for me, it’s the reactions of readers that show how I’ve improved.

Three of my friends offered to be beta readers of a novella about assisted suicide, and all cried at the same point (Yes!), which made me tear-up too and I knew what was going to happen!

I wrote humorous poetry for infants, which made the daughters of a friend laugh and start writing their own poems. Blimey, I’m influential! A short story I wrote was satisfying to one reader, as it ended exactly as she hoped, which was my intention. It’s great to surprise readers, but there are times when they crave the predictable.

Not to forget, that writing stories creates a fresh identity for you, which is real progress keeping you interested in who you are and arousing curiosity in others. Anyone who produces a book is infinitely more intelligent and sexier than they were before!

Huge sales of your books would be fantastic, but it’s the human reactions that really matter. Isn’t it?

How do you gauge your progress as a writer?

By blogging or communicating on social media?

By contributing to a writing group?

By typing 5,000 words daily?

By getting a response from readers?

Feeling Insignificant? Read this….

I came upon this quote in the excellent Writers’ Services newsletter: 

‘It does no harm to repeat as often as you can “Without me the literary industry would not exist: the publishers, the agents, the sub-agents, the sub-sub agents, the accountants, the libel lawyers, the departments of literature, the professors, the theses, the books of criticism, the reviewers, the book pages – all this vast and proliferating edifice is because of this small, patronised, put-down and underpaid person.”‘

Doris Lessing

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So, don’t undervalue yourself. Doubt should not make an end of you. It’s only proof that you want to write the best story possible.

Writers are often quiet and self-effacing people, but to succeed these days we have to sell ourselves. There’s no escaping that. It takes effort and self-belief (and probably a website, a blog and social media ‘friends’ and followers). 

At the core of it all is the writing. If you believe in that, then maybe people of influence will too, those who feed off your talent to keep publishing running.

Rachel Carson put it well:

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If you write what you yourself sincerely think and feel and are interested in, the chances are very high that you will interest other people as well.

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How Do You Sleep?

I came across a couple of articles about sleep which made me contemplate how my sleep patterns have changed with age.

We’ve discussed sleep before:

https://paulpens.cloudaccess.host/creativity-in-sleep/

I used to regularly sleep for eight hours a night. If I managed an extra hour, I felt fantastic and achieving ten hours turbocharged me! These days, at the age of 65, it’s more like six to seven hours of good quality sleep. I don’t feel deprived, but if I do feel drowsy during the day I’ll nap for an hour, sitting up in my chair, which invigorates me. It doesn’t often happen, perhaps four times a year.

Drowsiness can be a clue to health problems and disrupted nocturnal rest. My long-term partner suffered from sleep apnoea, which she was wholly unaware of, but when she stopped breathing, I woke instantly. She lacked energy during the day, frequently dropping off to sleep in the evening while watching television.

https://www.healthline.com/health/daytime-sleepiness/signs-to-see-a-dr#1

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There are a couple of drowsiness tests mentioned in this article:

https://curiosity.com/topics/measure-your-drowsiness-with-the-epworth-sleepiness-scale-curiosity

(I scored 3 in the Epworth Sleepiness Scale)

I think that because I’m so regular in my habits, it helps me to sleep. I’ve done jobs that were the enemy of sleep, such as getting up at 4.00 a.m. to be at the milk depot an hour later, to load an electric milk float and deliver 450 pints. Finishing work by 10.00 a.m., I needed to find ways to wind down before going home to sleep a few hours, waking to greet my partner at six o’clock. I was always in bed by 10.00 p.m. Milkmen soon start to look like the Walking Dead!

This job mimicked the old way of sleeping in two sessions:

https://www.sciencealert.com/humans-used-to-sleep-in-two-shifts-maybe-we-should-again

Nowadays, I work from eight o’clock to 1.00 a.m., retiring to bed to read for an hour, before turning the lights out. Fortunately, I’ve never been bothered by sleeplessness—proof of having a clear conscience?—or, no conscience at all!

Those plagued with insomnia become obsessed with sleep, which probably worsens their plight. A new device tracks a person’s sleep, which an insomniac might view as helpful. To me, it’s proof of how obsessed some people are with measuring everything in the 21st-century:

https://www.yankodesign.com/2019/08/12/the-respio-integrates-an-in-depth-sleep-tracker-right-into-your-bed/

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If you’re constantly monitoring yourself day and night, when do you ever relax and just enjoy being alive?

How do you sleep?

Mashups

As a safety valve to blow off pressure caused by designing a blog and website, using WordPress, I’ve been writing a couple of short stories.

Only visiting them once every few weeks has made the characters militant, and they’ve hijacked the plot, taking it in directions I hadn’t anticipated. One story is about a hedge witch intrigued by a newcomer to her village who appears to have arcane knowledge. I intended it to be an unusual love story with spells, curses, blessings and bindings mild enough to be printed by a women’s magazine, but it’s strayed into malevolent voodoo territory.

The other story is intended as a giveaway for subscribers to my Cornish Detective website. Featuring an early investigation by my protagonist, I planned for it to be an introduction to his characteristics and how crimes committed on the spur of the moment have consequences through the ages. Instead, a ghost of one of the victims hijacked the narrative adding spookiness.

At least these tales only wandered into a similar sub-genre, but it set me to thinking about how I could introduce bizarre elements into Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle’s investigations. He’s already tapped into lessons his farming ancestors taught him, so I could take things further. Crime writers James Oswald, James Lee Burke and John Connolly use supernatural forces to assist their main character.

I like the idea of writing a stand-alone novel based on a mashup of eras and genres:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashup_novels

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/5-mashup-novels-that-offer-worthy-twists-on-the-originals/

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A mashup of cavemen meeting cyborgs could be fun.

What mashup do you fancy writing?

A Good News Story

From today’s Guardian, a story to encourage us all:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/08/adrian-mckinty-interview-crime-novelist-the-chain

Adrian McKinty deserves his success. What depresses me about his story, is how, despite winning numerous writing awards, he was neglected by publishers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adrian_McKinty

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It sometimes seems to me that book companies detest their clients, failing to promote their books on the basis that they haven’t made enough money—and why should they do anything to rectify the situation?

Shane Salerno, the agent who turned McKinty’s life around, is a real powerhouse:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shane_Salerno

Imagine taking a phone call from such an influential figure!

Do you scare yourself?

I should add, do you upset, arouse, please or amuse yourself as you write a story?

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I just experienced another example of my writing unexpectedly affecting me.

I’ve been moved by my own writing only a few times, largely because I know what’s coming next, of course. I’ve penned some revolting scenes in my crime novels, including finding corpses and autopsies. There are so many facts to get right, that I’m more focused on the minutiae of decomposition and post-mortem techniques than I am with the emotions of the participants—which are muted, as they’re professionals who’ve seen it all before.

All the same, there was a scene in the first Cornish Detective story which always makes my heart beat faster. In it, a headstrong detective conceals information about a serial killer—a master of disguise—planning to arrest him alone to secure prestige and promotion. Visiting the killer’s workplace at night, no one appears to be there. Thwarted he makes for the police station, stopping to examine a nearby skip/dumpster for evidence. He disturbs a homeless Asian woman, and going to offer her help with sheltered accommodation for the night, he realises at the last moment that it’s the man they’re hunting in disguise. The detective dies. Every time I read it, I’m gripped by the danger he’s in.

Finding a way to write a sex scene for my Cornish Detective was tricky, as it had to fit into a crime story and the circumstances of the MC and his lover. I went for erotic rather than out-and-out-get-it-all-out-and-stick-it-in-there pornography! Two of my three female beta readers loved it, while the other thought it too explicit—preferring the gory details of a body being dissected by the pathologist. Impossible for me to judge if it’s sexy or not, but it’s emotional and fitted in with how my protagonist finally permitted himself to become close to another person, after running scared from intimacy for nine years of widowhood.

I was more moved by the grief of a widower in a short story I wrote about assisted suicide at the Dignitas Clinic, shedding a few tears when he finds hidden messages from his dearly departed wife.

The ghost stories I’ve written slowly build an atmosphere of dread, so I’m more aware of technique than I am horrified. However, just this evening, my skin crawled as I thought of a way to conclude a Crime short story I’m writing in a ghostly way. 

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I intend to give away a couple of tales to subscribers to my newsletter from the Cornish Detective website. I started a story in March, returning to it from time to time. The Sad House became gloomier and gloomier, possibly reflecting my own pessimism as I struggled to understand how to build a WordPress blog.

The abandoned cottage has been the scene of murder and suicide for 150 years, so much so, that it’s the first place the police search when a vulnerable adult goes missing. I had vague intentions to add a supernatural element, but couldn’t think how to do it. Out of the darkness of my subconscious, came the idea of my MC catching a glimpse of a woman watching him from an upstairs window of the deserted house. Rushing to find who it is, the detective sees a shadow disappearing into the wall followed by a plaintive wailing. I think it’s the change of senses, from him examining a historic crime scene to hearing the distress of one of the victims that gives me goosebumps.

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How have you been affected by your own writing?