you never know who’s listening: shameless plug edition

Just under a year ago I had the pleasure of reading my work out to a crowd of strangers.

If this doesn’t sound like a pleasure to you, then you clearly have no understanding of the warped psyche of a writer. This downright terrifying exhilarating experience was (thankfully?) immortalised on tape. (It’s probably not tape, it’s probably something much more hi-tech than that.) Anyway, it was immortalised. In the chaotic, nerve-wracking lead-up to the first public speaking engagement I’ve ever volunteered for, I somehow managed to miss out on the information that I was being recorded. Finding out later freaked me out momentarily – it’s like finding out someone can see straight into your bedroom, thanks to a combination of high-powered binoculars and your lack of blinds. (That happens to everyone, right?) In the end I was grateful that I went into the performance in a state of blissful ignorance.

My story, Under-Wired, was performed as part of Scissor Paper Pen’s inaugural Something Else event. They hold these story telling events semi-regularly, and they are always a delightfully bizarre mix. They give the writers a theme – ours was Wires Crossed – which is basically a rather vague nudge in the direction of your writing desk, and then they just sit back and watch the madness unfold. On the same night as me, my friend Zoe Anderson enlightened us on the weird and wonderful world of beekeeping with The Bee Story, and local poetry slam champ CJ Bowerbird unsettled and impressed everyone with his piece You Never Quite Reach the Drums in the Distance

Me, well, I brought down the tone a little. Under-Wired is about high school politics, “self-acceptance”*, and the sheer awkwardness that is a young girl’s relationship with her breasts. When in doubt, mine your angst-ridden adolescence for material.

In much the same way as I feel about my boobs now, I hope you guys like my little story.

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* So my much-more-articulate editors at SPP have dubbed it, anyway.

november is the cruellest month

November last year. November. Last. Year.

Most projects, when launched, are so launched with what one might tentatively refer to as honourable intentions. There are a few notable exceptions: invading another country, planning an elaborate murder, deciding to facebook-stalk your ex. But this blog, man, it was one of those new leaf moments. I am kind of grateful that I didn’t really talk to anyone about it because gawd, if I had, right now I would be cringing so hard at how New Age I’d sounded. I found a notebook the other day, started around the same time as the blog, where I used the phrase artistic epiphany. Kill me now.

It’s hard to start anything without a little bit of that cringeworthy naïveté and it’s harder still to look back at the projects you started, the projects you were SO EXCITED about and were going to CHANGE YOUR LIFE and other cliched phrases like TURNING POINT – it’s hard to look back and see how fallow you’ve let those fields lie. Typewritten Tales leads with an incredibly emotional, exhilarated and thoroughly pretentious narrator (*cough* me *cough*) babbling about the first time she managed to get paid for writing and performing a story. And then there’s a potentially interesting series of posts on one’s work-in-progress* that trail off after only two or three. And then there’s a long silence.

It is my first instinct to delete my previous posts and start again. I am secretive by nature, not because I have anything worth hiding but because I am naturally embarrassed at the thought of anyone looking at me, or anything I’ve done, and not finding it up to scratch. This is a difficult way to be when you have specific goals that kinda, you know, rest entirely on someone else actually reading and connecting with something you’ve written. I want to delete those old posts, those pieces of evidence proving, without a doubt, my guilt: I have no follow through. I, as I have blogged about previously, have such a severe case of procrastination I should be in medical textbooks. I should be studying right now. I tend to judge myself especially harshly; I have a certain proclivity for freaking the fuck out and running away and hiding.

BUT. I read back over those posts today, for the first time in nine months**, those gloriously optimistic posts, those thoroughly edited posts, those posts that link to my personal twitter account and will be viewed by everyone I know, by everyone who googles my real name (what a tiny little clubhouse that must be) and you know what? I’m proud of that girl.

I am proud of past me, who tried and failed, and I’m proud of current me, who is writing again, seriously, for the first time in over a year. I am proud that in the fifteen years since I decided writer was my ultimate aim in life and the source of any potential happiness, that I am still able to try again. Oh, she’s got her faults, that little old me, but mostly I think she’s all right.

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*You know, I honestly can’t remember what story it was that I decided to develop for last year’s NaNoWriMo. Yet another abandoned project for the archives!

** That’s a WHOLE BABY’S WORTH OF TIME right there. I could have CREATED LIFE in that time. I didn’t do anything even half that constructive. I just made awful puns that would make TS Eliot roll over in his grave, then rise back up and come and eat my brain for having desecrated his work in that way.

nanoupdate #2: the pros and cons of typewriters

I’m a bit of a typewriter nerd.

Well, no, not nerd or geek, because that kind of implies that I am knowledgable in some way about typewriters. What I actually am is a typewriter fetishist. Polite cough. Sorry. But there’s no way around it: I know next to nothing about the invention, use, or maintenance of typewriters; I know that the Qwerty keyboard was invented to stop the little flicky key-bits from jamming but – see! I don’t even know what the little flicky key-bits are called!

What I do know is that I love writing on typewriters but that, five days in, I’m already slightly anxious about my decision to write my nanonovel on my clunky old Brother electric. Probably because I just sent half an hour MANUALLY TALLYING MY WORD COUNT. Yeah. Technology ain’t all bad.

 

Here’s my pros and cons for the Typewriter Experience so far.

PROS:

I can type as fast as I can think of a sentence – my touch typing skills are certainly up to scratch.

Using a typewriter automatically switches off my inner editor – ‘cos I can’t go back and change what I’ve just typed. Perfect for Nanowrimo’s word count boosting, 50,000-or-die mentality.

It’s pretty! My typewriter itself might not be the most adorable retro piece – it’s way too 80s for that – but I like the way the words look on the page. I like having a physical stack of pages to measure my progress against.

CONS:

Sometimes my fingers go a little too fast, and switch into muscle memory mode before I can stop them, typing something instead of someone more times than I can count. Correction tape is a precious commodity, I only use it for the really big cock ups, so there’s a lot of back spacing and typing rows of x’s over things.

Hesitating before I write something, because it feels more like a permanent decision. That inner editor of mine is a mouthy little bitch who won’t take a hint.

NO WORD COUNT FUNCTION. RARGH LAUREN SMASH.

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Word count: 4,363 words. Slow start big finish.

nanoupdate #1

So… yeah. Day four? Day four. Oh, my word count? Wow, everyone is so obsessed with length here.

So I’ve had a pretty bad start to NaNoWriMo 2012 in terms of words on the page. My tried and trusted method is the 1667-words-per-day-no-matter-what: I say tried and trusted because I’ve only “won” NaNoWriMo once and that was what I did. Sometimes I even went over 1667, just to give myself a little bit of a buffer in case the next day was a bad day.

November 2012 seems to be a bad month; at least when it comes to my novel. If you are any other project – random short stories, pearly-white and perfect first stanzas to future earth-shattering epics, then man, am I showering you with love and attention right now. But The Novel, poor thing, I think it might be able to tell that I am forcing myself through that “quality time” of ours. It’s taken me until Day Four to do what I needed to do: 1) block some time out of my calendar where what I’m meant to be doing is writing and 2) have someone there to make sure I do it. Apparently I am useless without the buddy system. This afternoon my best friend and I wandered down to the park and sat in the sun, ate vegan chips and apples, talked about how scary birds are, and then we made some goddamn ART. We were both dealing with a spot of rustiness, she sketching after some time off, me writing fiction again after months of gig reviews and artist interviews, so it was an awkward but ultimately productive afternoon. I am no where near meeting my word targets, but at least I’ve actually started moving – however slowly – toward them.

Another thing I have learnt about my writing process, darling is that I am a planner. If I’d spent even five minutes doing a bit of self-assessment I probably could have put two and two together and come to the same astounding conclusion, but as it is it turns out I learn by making an idiot out of myself. Thankfully, this time, it was just to myself, no one else.

I discovered, in drawing up a family tree of my characters, that I’d managed to put one of my characters into two different families within the same paragraph. I’d read through the paragraph once before I realised this and not even noticed. I had to sit down and make an elaborate family tree, draw a little map of my universe, and start picking careers and personality traits for my characters before the penny would deign to drop.* And I thought brainstorming was just something they taught us in high school
English when we were planning essays.

So in conclusion, my new business cards are going to read something like this:

Lauren Strickland
idiot, procrastinator, novelist

Am keeping on going, and come hell or high water I will win this year; the t-shirt design is just too damn cute.

* Side note: there was a reason I had to quit playing The Sims.

fifty thousand words

Look at the date on my first post. Now look at the date on this one. There’s a reason my twitter bio (self)describes me as ‘writer, reader, avid procrastinator‘, and it’s not flippancy.

I started this blog with the loftiest and most poetic of intentions, and I still have them to a certain extent. I want to write and I want to write often and I want to make myself a better writer. I want to be able to cast my mind back (see: Google myself) years from now and see all the bits and pieces that went into that process: the books I read and the films I saw, the stories and submitted and the rejection letters I received, the exercises and challenges and discussions and meandering, pointless thoughts I had on the subject. I’d be lying if I say I don’t want to look back and see a few successes too: publications, paycheques, final manuscripts.

None of this will happen until I can – honestly – edit my twitter bio. I could do it now, delete the self-fulfilling prophecy, but it will still be how I think of myself. Procrastinator. Pretentious snot with an abandoned, one-post blog. There’s nothing worse than writers who don’t write.

That’s why I think this blog needs a kick in its digital pants and that’s why I’m here, in the dying days of October, blogging about something very dear to my heart: NaNoWriMo.

I don’t know what the wider writing community thinks about this annual writing challenge – I’ve never bothered to ask – but I love it. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo – or National Novel Writing Month – is an annual challenge set for writers to churn out a 50,000 word first draft. It started way back in 1999, initially just a US thing – initially just a San Francisco thing, actually – and grew from there. As far I know the only requirements are that your work is fictional, original, and not the same word repeated over and over again. They have a website, an adorably-named organisation (the Office of Letters and Light!) and a suitably prosaic tagline: Thirty days and nights of literary abandon.

November 2010 was the first and only time I’ve ever managed to write something substantial.* November 2010 was the first time I bonded with someone over the fact that we both wanted to be writers. December 2010 was the first time I was able to say, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve written a novel. No big.’

It was crap, of course, that first NaNo novel of mine, but I still fucking wrote it, so nyah. That’s kind of the point of (Inter)National Novel Writing Month: writing. Writing one thing for however long it takes for that initial burst of inspiration to pass (usually about as long as it takes for me tea to go cold) and then keeping on going. And ending up with a piece of shit manuscript you’re not afraid to tear to pieces in order to find that something decent buried within.

I have dozens of “idea” notebooks, full of singularly pretentious potential first lines and hazily outlined plots in which everyone is named Anna or Ben because those are my go-to character names. NaNoWriMo is an opportunity to shake some life into those rattling story-fragments, and the experience of participating is a chance to blow some of the dust off my neglected little corner of the internet. I intend to give myself something to write about here by writing. The lovely folk at the Office of Letters and Light call it ‘winning’ NaNoWriMo if you finish: that’s all it takes. 50,000 words, bitches. I’ll see you in December, Instagramming a picture of myself in my winner’s tee.

 

In the meantime, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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*And by substantial mean Longer Than The Largest Word Limit I’ve Ever Been Set For A University Assignment.**

** And by Longer Than The Largest Word Limit I’ve Ever Been Set For A University Assignment, I mean longer than 3000 words.***

*** Footnotes are fun! I feel like David Foster Wallace.

it happened when i finally started blogging, too

Last night – or, no, the night before that it must have been – yes, that was definitely the night I became a writer.

It wasn’t the first time this sort of thing had happened to me. It happened when I first saw my name in print – online – and then again, the first time I saw my name in print, in paper, in a publication in my hand, mere minutes later. I took photos on my phone and texted them to my mother and I squealed excitedly and incoherently at my boyfriend, who was very confused, thinking that the first-time-in-print moment had already passed.

It happened the first time I filled a notebook simply with ‘ideas’, things to come back to later, and knew for the first time that they were all things I actually would come back for. It happened the first time I got picked to participate in a writing workshop at school with a famous local author. It happened when my high school English teacher, in our year ten farewell assembly, announced my name and said, ‘We’re all looking forward to reading your novel someday.’

It happened the first time I went to a party, and someone asked me what I did and I couldn’t say student anymore, so I said writer. It happened the first time I went to a party and someone asked me what I did and I said writer and they didn’t ask me how I ever expected to make any money from that, but just said that was cool.

It happened the first time I saw Harriet the Spy, then again the first time I read Harriet the Spy, and then countless times over and over again every time I read the battered paperback that, now falling apart in my eleven-year-old hands, had been brand new when I bought it. It happened when I was two years old and dictated a story I’d ‘dreamed’ to my mother, insisting she mark all her corrections with square brackets.

On a rainy Wednesday night in the city centre, standing outside Smiths, it happened again, when I got paid – for the first time – for something that I wrote.

Scissors Paper Pen are a Canberra zine, literary salon, arts blog, young-writery network, and now the hosts of a monthly story-telling evening called Something Else. I was invited to write and read something at the inaugural event on Wednesday night.

When they first asked me to do it I had to swallow the fiery ball of fear that had suddenly roared into life in my throat before I could answer. I had been cherry-picking my uni courses to avoid in-class presentations since first year. I had a long and illustrious history of creative excuses used to get out of them before that. But somehow, when it came to writing, the argument that I would be afraid and I didn’t want to wasn’t strong enough anymore. The little person who sleeps (most of the time, anyway) curled up in the bottom of my ear, woke up with a snort and said, ‘Hey, this is just part of being a writer. Do it.’ I said yes before I could even really think about it.

The theme we were given was ‘Wires Crossed’, and the story I read was about an agony that only slow-blooming teenage girls can understand: being the last girl in my year level to develop breasts. As any fool could have predicted I spent the day of the reading panicking – I think my heart started palpitating at one in the afternoon – and re-writing my entire piece.

I put on my favourite swirly blue dress – for luck – and my giant stompy knee-high Docs, and I headed out into the rain.*

When I got to Smiths I drank two glasses of water in a very short space of time. I ran around and nervously greeted friends and acquaintances. Someone asked me what my story was about and when I told them they said, ‘Oh, I get it, wires crossed, underwires,‘ and I thought oh thank god it does relate to the theme. I was the second person to read and to my immense relief and gratitude everybody laughed, and they laughed when I’d hoped they would. I’ve never been so delighted to be in a room full of people laughing at me and my teenage pain.

After the event ended and the tension did it’s proverbial melty thing and I stepped out onto the blissfully cool street – it was still raining softly –  I finally had enough space in my head to think this is why I do this and this is what I want to do. I’m not doing it for my modest appearance fee** or for the compliments afterwards – though neither of these things hurt. The thing I’ve known I wanted to do since I was eleven years old, and if I’d had enough sense would have suspected long before, is not just something I can do, but something I can enjoy. It is something I can imagine myself doing forever, if fickle circumstance will allow me. I don’t want to get a ‘real job’, I want to do this.

It might be hard to get the words going, some days; it might be incredibly nerve-wracking; it might be a dying art, a dead industry, and horrendously underpaid. But it will never be unrewarding. And I don’t think it’s too trite to say that that night, skipping through the rain with my ten dollars in one hand, my other half holding on to the other, I found exactly what it is that makes me happy.

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* There’s something about me, milestones, and rain. The first gig I ever went to that I had to review, which turned out to be the first piece that I ever got published, took place in a downpour too.

** Ten bucks, which I’m totally framing by the way.