Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Category: Writing

Write, Rewrite, Then Don’t Rewind : Writing Out Loud #4

I paid my money didn’t I? I should be able to take my choice then?  No, not when NYC Midnight have their flash fiction competition.

One thousand carefully chosen words,  a genre, a scene and an object chosen at random. Forty Eight hours to write it.

And on Saturday 15th July, the email arrived. Genre: Ghost Story, Scene: A Basement, Object: A Tattoo Machine.

I had to find out what a tattoo machine is, didn’t I?  That was the easy part.  A quick Google search and I found one.

I even listened to recordings of tattoo machines. Which reminded me of the dentist’s drill. That at least ended up in the story. But after listening to that, there was no way I was going to be inked in the name of research.

But me? A ghost story? My first reaction was:  I haven’t written any. I was wrong. I’ve written two. One fact. One fiction.  Still I researched my genre. And read some ghost stories, some great, some indifferent. And brought to mind my secret love of Edgar Allan Poe.

But a basement. I really don’t know what to do in a basement…Self doubt occurred early. But I persisted…

I scrabbled and scrambled for thoughts. Then came the flood of nefarious ghost-like events. I wrote them out. Then…

I revised what I had written. And threw it all away. Somewhere, somebody is looking at my lost notes and saying, “I wouldn’t write that either.”

Then the premise arrived. The idea was a ghost requesting permission…But I won’t add to that otherwise it would spoil the story.

And I wrote it. And I was pleased with it. But there was a problem…

The rewriting. The last time I wrote a short story (The Great Blow), I went on a re-writing frenzy. Eight or nine rewrites until I could take it no more.

This story (called Ghost Tattoo) was rewritten about four or five times.  I only realised it when I posted it on the competition forum. Some of the feedback was similar. And when I read the story, I realised they were right. A few more rewrites…Still when I receive the judge’s feedback, I will rewrite it. And post it. And learn my lesson. Otherwise I will have to take the test again!

 

 

 

 

Why I Write:Writing Out Loud #3

If money is the measure of success, as a short story writer and poet, I have little chance.

So why do I turn up? Why do I fill notebooks with words? Then copy and rewrite it in Evernote. And then again into Scrivener?

I now know I’m borrowing a talent as it were, but that doesn’t explain my motivation to write. Especially when the story or poem is demanding to be written.

Why do I do this?

Much like a poet who expresses those thoughts best unsaid, the author, Natasha Lester answered for me in her blog Success as a Writer: What Does it Mean? Understanding.

And she speaks for me. I was joyfully surprised by the feedback I received for the Great Blow. I wrote a poem called The Unravelled Heart , then attended a meetup. Two people had read it and they understood.

But the first time I really found out why I write occurred when I wrote a story called Medicine Woman.  A few days after publishing it, I received an email containing the French phrase, “On Ne Peut Sauver Celle Qui Ne Veut L’etre.” My school French could not suffice and I googled the phrase and also checked with my French teacher friend.

The phrase meant, “One cannot help those who cannot help (themselves).” Which is what the story really was about. Which is why I really wrote it.

Which is why i write.

 

Writing Out Loud #1 : The Short Story that Grew…

If I wait long enough a story appears. It’s my calling to catch and keep it. Usually a pen or Evernote is in reach. Then  the work begins: to unravel the story into most of its truth. The rest is for the reader or remains unknown.

Like unravelling a twisted string strand by strand….or unwrapping a layered gift.

Writing is putting pen to paper. Writing is also eliciting words from a reluctant place. And the standard methods that work for other writers may not work. They don’t work for me. I have had to find my own way.

Short stories, yes.

Poetry, yes though not all the time.

Blogs, pages of scribbled and reorganised lines.

Novels, next subject, move along nothing left to see here.

Isn’t there a saying that everyone has a novel in them? I have two. Two and a half. Both and a half will stay unpublished most likely. For there’s no happy ending for heroine or author in either effort.

Reputedly, authors reputedly are either planners or pantsers. In my day job, I’m a planner. I have to be. Otherwise its thank you, good night and bad luck. But after hours, it doesn’t work.

For both novels, I created the story then wrote an outline. It looked great. It even conformed with the hero’s journey. Another tick. Following on I was then able to fill in the gaps. Up to a point.

Then I became stuck. The story refused to stay still. It defied the structure set for it. Each time, each novel had to be set aside.

And of course, I felt miffed. It’s a blog, I’m a writer, miffed isn’t the exact word here. In despair, I returned to short stories, blogs and poetry. Every so often I did try to revitalise the two novels but I didn’t succeed.

I hadn’t learn the lesson set out for me. Like that saying I received the test over and over again.

Until I carried out the following short story exercise.  Take a character and sketch out six situations, three highlights and three lowlights.

My first attempt didn’t work. It was pretentious garbage. It now resides in my own personal slush pile.

But my second try…in three quarters of an hour’s work, I had written the synopsis of six possible short stories. Then I wrote them.

Then an oddity intruded. I found I could add to this series, in the future and in the past. I could tell the next part of each story. As the heap of stories increased,  I asked myself what the motivation was for these stories. On a whim, I added that as well and the results astounded me.

When other writers asked me, what I was doing, I’d say, “I have all these short stories. I keep adding to them. I haven’t finished. I don’t really know what’s going on.”

One reply was,”You could write a set of stories about the same people. “You mean that perhaps I’m writing some sort of concept album like Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds?”, I replied.

Then again, I tried to fit it to a structure. I specifically used the hero’s journey. And here again I became stuck. For the story didn’t fit. Then I tried the heroine’s journey.  It mostly worked. Yet it was not a novel. It was a series of short stories that follow a narrative.

And I was left wondering, can this be done? Has anyone done a story in this way? No answer to that question until…

The next conversation with my writers group. I mention what I’m doing again. Then I’m asked, “Have you heard of Junot Diaz?” I say, “No”. Then another person says, “He’s good, you’ll like him.”

I google Junot Diaz. He writes short stories revolving around a single character. He’s also a fan of the original BBC TV series of Edge of Darkness : a mini-series in which each episode is a story that stand she alone.  We have more than one thing in common.

 

 

 

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