camp nano

On a whim, I have decided to try out Camp NaNoWriMo this July.

Considering the amount of crazy day job deadlines coming up, my general emotional state (poor), and the amount of regular writing I currently do (very little), I am sure this is going to be a huge challenge. I am going to be revising my NaNoWriMo novel from November 2015, something I have been meaning to do since, well, December 2015.

I undertake a lot of writing projects on a whim. I assign myself tasks designed to achieve enormous, significant goals. This is most often a mistake; I design things that don’t really work for me and then get dispirited when I can’t keep the output up for more than a few days. I have wanted to write for a long time but I don’t even know if I can do it anymore. Hopefully Camp Nano turns out not to be one of these projects.

If you’re thinking about signing up, there’s only 6 days until the Camp officially kicks off! Hop to it.

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second draft blues

I have a serious case of the second draft blues.

Okay, not blues – maybe what I have is more accurately described as a phobia. A second-draft-induced full-on panic attack. Second draft terror.

How do you write a second draft? How do you do it? Seriously, could someone on the internet somewhere have written an actually helpful guide to tackling this monster? A specific, non-vague, step by step list of instructions? Yeah, that’d be great. I guess writing doesn’t really work like that – no one else can write you a ten-point plan for how to write your novel – but man, it’d be so awesome if it did.

Part of why I am so fearful of this next novelling step is that I have never taken it before. I am the first draft queen. I can free write like a champ. I have notebook upon notebook dedicated to those initial, glorious bursts of inspiration, those moments when even the texture and motion of the ink on the page is the stuff of poetry. But when it comes to second drafts my experience is limited to much, much shorter works – reviews, essays, flash fiction. I have no idea how to take on a 50k manuscript and it is freaking me out.

truman capote

This picture of Truman Capote comes up when you Google image search ‘frustrated writer.’

Freaking out for me means watching Gilmore Girls and Harry Potter for the twenty-millionth time and starting another novel and letting that big hulking black folder containing my manuscript intimidate me into inaction. Occasionally I treat my unsuspecting friends and acquaintances to a babbling, hyperactive rant when they ask me how my novel is going (a side effect of not wanting to lie and say, ‘Great!’ and also of having no filter when it comes to my emotions).

Does anyone have any advice? I will take book recommendations, article links, anything. Just don’t be vague.

a note on criticism & a book review: joe meno’s office girl

[From the day I started Typewritten Tales, I knew I wanted to write book reviews. And film reviews, and TV show reviews, and restaurant reviews, and reviews of my day and mood and life. I wanted to think about and engage critically with the world. This is something that I want to do in my fiction as well: to think about the world that I live in and notice it, really notice it, to experience it in a fuller way. I am excited to bring you my first book review, because it means I am starting to do what I set out to do when I took up blogging.

I would like to add a disclaimer though: I am not a fan of negative book reviews. This does not mean that I only want to publish positive, meaninglessly supportive faux-criticism. If everything is awesome, nothing is. But I see no point in ripping into something for the sake of a punchline, either. HOWEVER, you have the following review. You’ll see what I mean in a minute, but I promise you I did not write what I wrote because I enjoy tearing people down, especially when I know how much hard work a novel is. I know it’s hard work, and I haven’t even finished mine.

It is because I am working on my own attempt at a novel that I think criticism is so important. If I don’t like something, the first thing I ask myself is why. There is always a reason. There is always something to be learned from every novel, good, bad, or in between. I want to learn. I want to dissect every piece of writing that I come across so that I know what I want to do with my own writing and can recognise when it is going astray.

On that qualifying note, I present to you my less-than-complimentary thoughts on Joe Meno’s Office Girl.]

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Joe Meno’s second novel, Office Girl (Akashic Books, 2012) is set in the year 1999. Its characters worry about the Y2K bug and talk about how the world is about to end. They listen to the Velvet Underground with disavowed enthusiasm. They ride bicycles through the streets of snowy Chicago and are described by what primary colours they have chosen to adorn themselves with.

Odile, the titular “office girl,” is lost. Spiritually speaking. She’s had a series of uninspiring telemarketing roles and flings with her coworkers. She’s possibly in love with a married man, but it’s hard to tell. She gives handjobs in the supply room and feels bad about herself afterwards. An art school drop out, she doodles and daydreams and expresses a desire to start her own Anti-Art Art Movement. She’s thinking about leaving Chicago for New York.

Jack is 26 and is already getting divorced. He, too, has had a string of dull day (or, more accurately, night) jobs, but he has the soul of an artist. He rides his shiny blue bicycle around the snow-covered city, recording its sounds on a little silver dictaphone. The sound of a balloon, apparently, is something you can capture on a tape recorder. Ditto, the sound of snow falling.

It’s all very poetic, but only in a way that a rather pretentious high schooler would appreciate. Odile and Jack are rather uninspiring, flat characters: their actions seem like deliberately symbolic movements performed for the reader, rather than the actions of believable characters. Odile, especially, is a frustratingly two-dimensional, marginalised-within-her-own-narrative character: a prime specimen of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl order if I ever read one. An early chapter, entitled ‘MEN WHO HAVE ACCUMULATED AROUND HER’ is the first indication that we’re entering MPDG territory; then, Odile thinks ‘Why doesn’t anyone make anything weird like this anymore?’ while moodily reading a zine and wearing a t-shirt for a band called Suicide and hating her art-world conforming performance artist roommate (who seems to exist only so a photo of a topless girl wearing a stormtrooper helmet could be included in the book). Icing on the cake, after 55 short pages, Meno abandons Odile’s point of view entirely to tell the remainder of the story from Jack’s perspective instead.

Jack, who is (of course!) falling in love with the endearing so-called weirdness that is Odile. Despite the fact that she consistently tells him that she’s not interested in a relationship. You can smell the ending, in which Odile will stop being such a handjob-giving slut and fulfil her role as fixer of Jack’s puppy-dog neuroses, before disappearing mysteriously after having altered Jack’s like in some ineffable/unutterable fashion, preferably after he has gotten to fuck her, from the first page.

The novel is wrapped in a bubblegum-pink cover, dotted with adorably lo-fi illustrations, and even has the occasional line where you think, ‘Hey, this writing is not so bad…?’ Ultimately, though, it’s not enough to save Office Girl from the clutches of cliché.

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slump

blue

Slump. Slumped over. Going through a slump. Slump. Some lump. Lump. Lumbering, laboured, lagging.

People often speak of ‘going through a slump,’ an expression I always picture in the same way: a cartoon of a tired, defeated business man, in a dark suit, with cartoon lines under his eyes. He was walking on a sunny street a moment ago, with a straight spine and a smile on his face; but as he passes into shadow his shoulders droop in time with the corners of his sad mouth. I am going through a slump. I am walking down a dim, grey street. (I am recycling bad metaphors. I can’t help it.)

I am going through a slump. Actually, I am going through several kinds of slumps all at once. I am going through a reading slump; after a productive year in which I have read 50 books, I suddenly find myself bored and irritated by everything I pick up. I am going through a writing slump; everything I put on the page seems self-indulgent, unoriginal, boring, nothing like what it was in my head a few moments ago. I had a better opening line for this piece that had scurried away before my word processing program could be fucked to load. (Fuck you, technology.) I cannot even write letters to my friends, even though I want to. I cannot write replies to their texts, even though I want to.

I am going through a work slump; at my six-month performance review it was noted that I seemed less enthusiastic about my work. It is hard to be enthusiastic about my work. Six months in I have gotten to the point where I am no longer learning anything new, and my tasks have become mind-numbingly repetitive and frustratingly fiddly. There is nothing creative in my job, or not enough of it. My boss thinks I need reminding and for my hand to be held because, unlike her, I do not announce everything I am doing for the world to see how busy and important I am. That is unfair. I am in a slump at work in which I unfairly hate everything, including my perfectly nice boss.

I am going through a slump at my other work, too, as a subeditor of the film section of a magazine. Even though it has a strong creative element and is, objectively, an interesting job. Even though the writers I work with are improving every day, impressing me with their articulate analyses and amusing one-liners. Even so I find it hard to make myself sit down in front of the computer and edit submissions, or to come up with lists of films for the writers to review. I forget what I am doing while I do it. I forget what it used to feel like. I was so excited when I found out about this job; I jumped up and danced around the room with my best friend, squealing, while our partners looked on, confused. I felt like I was making progress. I was an editor now. I was doing something.

I am going through an everything slump. An agoraphobic slump. I dislike intensely having to leave the house and feel disgusting when I do. Hyper-aware of my disgusting fat stomach and legs, my greasy, sweaty skin. I am going through a sleeping slump, sometimes. I am exhausted but I cannot sleep. I am awake, alert, but I fall asleep as if I am passing out and wake feeling drugged. Sluggish.

People think the way to help me get out of this slump is to tell me how to fix it. Go back to volunteer work, set goals, exercise more, eat better. The fact that they are right only makes me angry. I do not seem to be having an anger slump; that one part of me is functioning perfectly, overtime, anytime, all the time.

They are right and they are wrong. Getting out of the house would  be good for me. If I exercised more and ate less crap I would probably feel better. I do not think they are right about the goal-setting thing; I have plenty of goals. Large, impressive, oppressive goals; goals that scare me, or that I am scared to think I might not ever meet. I have the weight of my own expectations, I do not need yours too.

They are right but they are wrong. If I could leave the house, exercise, prepare healthy food, I would. I think that I would if I could. It’s hard to explain that these simple things are hard for me to someone who has never found them difficult. Or worse, getting advice from those who have, at some point if not currently, experienced the same difficulties with getting out of bed, having a shower, focussing on a task long enough to finish it, making themselves a meal instead of ordering something deep-friend to be delivered. Have they forgotten? Or they are living with the same cognitive dissonance I am: the knowledge that these things would heal me, but that I could only do them if I weren’t already sick. If I could do these simple things with the ease with which people say the words, ‘Just get up,’ then I wouldn’t need to be told them.

These are the things I can do: watch TV, scroll through tumblr, masturbate, pick fights. These things are easy; these things make me feel alive, if only briefly. These things distract me from the gradual frittering away of my limited time. These things can be done in a slump; in a hunched over, balled up, listless position; things that require no effort or thought and contribute absolutely nothing, to anything or anyone.

I didn’t mean for this to happen but this blog has become a way for me to write about not being able to write. I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing. I am not writing any of the things I want to write. Is it enough to be writing? I started this blog because I wanted to teach myself discipline: I wanted to update this regularly, and hopefully about my writing successes. I had just been paid for writing and performing something for the very first time when I started this blog. I had all these ideas bubbling around in my brain, itching to be put down in words. Instead, I use it for those self-indulgent, unoriginal, boring bits of writing I mentioned before: these clichéd attempts to articulate what it feels like to be so depressed you can barely move; apologies and self-justifications for why I am not writing anything else. It’s not enough just to write, regardless of what you are writing. The words matter; what you are trying to say matters, whether or not it is any good, even if it is just by your own standards, matters. That you are writing something that contributes to something larger matters; just writing here, to fill up space on a page and be able to say, yes, I blog does not matter. There is nothing worthwhile in spewing your thoughts onto the page and posting it on the internet; this is insubstantial, this is the opposite of what I want. I would not be proud to say I wrote this. I will not tell anyone this is here.

Who does it matter to? Me. Me, my harshest critic. My slump does not prevent me from being angry, and it doesn’t prevent me from being angry at myself. Angry for these thoughts and I feelings that I cannot prevent. Angry that I waste so much time sitting around on the couch doing nothing. I am just the same as everyone else, telling me to pull my socks up: I think this is my fault. I think this is something that can be fixed by great effort, by sheer willpower. I start to plan. Fix-it plans: no more TV, yoga every morning, a blogging schedule, a plan to complete my novel. Some part of me still thinks this slump is something I can help.

self-destructive criticism

When I woke up this morning the first thing I did was check my email.

I didn’t get out of bed, I didn’t even open my eyes; I just rolled over and groped blindly among the shoes, books, cardigans, bags, wool, charger cords, newspapers, plastic bags, unpaid bills, and empty drinking bottles until my hand settled on the familiar shape of my phone. I hung off the edge of the bed and scrolled through my notifications. Right at the bottom, beneath a string of marketing emails alerting me to sales I had no interest in, was an email from my editor.

I knew before I opened it that this was not going to be a fun email to read, because I had known when I submitted my last piece that it wasn’t good enough. I had known, and I had sat in front of my laptop the entirety of the day before until my head ached, trying to get the words out, but they wouldn’t. It wasn’t a complex piece, it wasn’t something dear to my heart – it was just a film review, of an interesting film that I had quite liked, but not loved, and in my head I knew why I felt the way I did about it. It shouldn’t have been a hard piece to write. But for whatever reasons the words wouldn’t come out and so I had typed up some rambling approximation of what was going through my head and sent it in before I could talk myself out of “finishing” it. I wanted to be done with it. I knew it was bad, and I knew I was too frustrated to keep looking at it, and I knew the deadline had already whooshed unhappily past. I was starting to feel a little scared, as I always do when it comes to the crunch, that I have chosen the wrong career and that I cannot handle writing.

Writing is hard to handle, harder than movie-montages of Shakespeare-types dipping their quills or hyped-up Beats frantically typing out scroll upon scroll into the madness of the night: writing scares the fuck out of me, and sometimes I can’t face it. Not every day, just some days, writing will suddenly be inexplicably more difficult to do on that day than on other days, and I have no idea why. On a bad day, everything I write comes out as drivel; every intelligent thought I have is obscured by my sudden inability to find the right word; all my good ideas whither under my cruel, unforgiving gaze.

I open the email and it tells me exactly what I already think of myself. Nice try, Lauren. Did you even go to high school? Did you not see those spelling mistakes? Have you ever heard of grammar? Good ideas – wish you’d had the brains to develop them. I hyperventilate quietly into my pillow, and when this stops seeming like a good plan I go and hyperventilate in the bathroom for a little bit, so my boyfriend won’t hear me and ask me what’s wrong. (If he asked me, I’d have to explain: I did this stupid thing, I knew it was stupid, but I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I just can’t handle this.) I look in the bathroom mirror, like people in movies do when they are having existential crises, and I ask the exhausted face in there if maybe it mightn’t be time that I gave up on the idea of having dreams and picked something else I could settle for.

For some reason, the utter absurdity, the completely self-pitying foolishness of this thought snaps me out of my panicky little spiral. Give up on having dreams? Did you really just think that? I know I am starting to sound a little bit like an American talk show host when I write this, but really – who, in their right mind, thinks Oh, you know what would be sweet? Having no ambition and being content with a really dull job. I could get really good at gardening. My life could be like one long Dilbert strip. 

And so I go back into the other room and this time the email says: ‘Thanks for your review, Lauren. I really liked x, y, and z – you should develop those more. Also, I’d like you to watch your spelling and grammar mistakes.’ Because the first time I read it through, I wasn’t really listening to my editor – who is lovely, and knows the value of constructive criticism (and probably a thing or two about the fragile egos of writers) – I was still listening to the panicky, scared, stupid girl who thinks a bad day means the end of a career. Or that a bad day makes a bad writer.

So I had a shower. I went to the bakery and got a coffee, and a muffin I probably shouldn’t have, but what the hell. I sat down in front of my computer and did the crazy-writer thing, where I mutter my sentences to myself and my boyfriend looks at me funny. And today turned out to be an equally inexplicably good writing day, and when I went looking for the words I found them, and my sentences made sense, and my ideas seemed pretty good, actually, once I got the chance to look at them again. And I learned my lesson for the day: whether it be first drafts or feedback emails from editors, read everything through twice. Things will look different in the morning.

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*Actually, from time to time I have wished for apathy. Most often I’m in the middle of a panic attack when I think this – I think, god, if only I didn’t care. But this, like the panic, passes.

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.