A Book Buying Excuse

Books Are My Bag

Because there’s nothing we love more than a good book. The smell of its new pages, freshly glued together. That unbroken spine. Those unbattered corners. Those unsullied margins.

Doesn’t it all make you want to go to your nearest independent bookstore, pull a lovely, new book off the shelves and bring it home with you?

Well, today is the perfect day to do just that. Today is the Big Bookshop Party. This party celebrates the launch of the Books Are My Bag campaign, which aims to support and save high street bookshops. Stores across the country will be celebrating today and are encouraging book lovers to get off of Amazon and get into their local store to buy a book.

There are lots of events going on, so find your local, participating bookshop and enjoy the day. You can even take part in a competition to win book tokens, books and get on a bookmark.

 

CANCELLED: Writer’s Cafe at the Rose Theatre 08 October 2013

We regret to inform you that the final Writer’s Cafe, scheduled for the 8th of October, has been cancelled. Do watch this space, though, for more events with writers and opportunities to share your work!

Learning to Quit Books

Sinéad Keegan is an Irish-born writer in the final year of her MFA at Kingston and currently writing her first novel. Her short stories and poetry and have been published in several magazines and she blogs at www.sineadkeegan.com. Twitter: @sineadkeegan. She is the editor of No Dead White Men and recently taught a course in blogging and social media for Kingston Writing School.

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In the true spirit of blogging, I am going to make a confession.

It will perhaps come as no surprise that I have always loved reading. I devoured all the assigned books when I was in school. I loved many of them, disliked some of them but read all of them. While my classmates bought Cliff’s Notes for Crime and Punishment, I wrapped myself in Dostoyevsky’s language. When they watched the film of Great Expectations, I sought out more of Dickens’s novels. I read anything and everything I put my hand to and never quit. Real readers don’t quit.

So, for many years now I have lived with the great shame of not having finished Gulliver’s Travels. I was sixteen when it was assigned to me and I hated it. I read Lilliput and just thought it was unbelievably dull. This, from a teenager who counted The Return of the Native among her favourite books.

Until just this year it was the only book I’d ever failed to finish. But I have a new outlook now. I was having a chat with science fiction novelist Christopher Priest this spring when he mentioned that he only reads books that he loves. When I explained my guilt-reading, he squashed the idea firmly. He said that there are a finite number of books that you can read in your lifetime so you had better be sure you enjoy the reading that you do.

Reading had previously seemed an infinite activity. So many books and all the days in the world to spend curled up with them. Suddenly, I was aware of my literary mortality. He had me calculate the number of books I could possibly read if I kept reading at my current pace and lived to eighty. He assured me you slow down as you age, so the number was optimistic. My best case scenario number is 3,000. At first glance, this seems enormous, but surely there are more than 3,000 great books that I would love.

I take Chris’s point. In fact, he’s absolutely right and I’ve quit two books since I had that conversation. But I still hear that nagging voice urging me to persevere. The conflict rages. One of the books I’m claiming to have quit is still sitting on the end table in my “to read” pile with a bookmark at page 212. I’m less than halfway through, but I still devoted hours to struggling through a book that I genuinely dislike. I should have quit at page 1. The problem is that it came highly recommended by a dear friend and excellent novelist. In over a decade, she has never steered me wrong on books, so I tell myself that I just need to give this book another thirty pages or another twenty or just one more chapter.

I tell myself that the recommendation is the problem, but that’s not true. The problem is the guilt. I don’t want to be a person who leaves books unfinished. A reading quitter. So I remind myself that I am only reading the glorious novel I am right now because I have put that other one aside.

Now, before everyone gets all up in arms about the value of reading what you don’t like, relax. I know exactly why I don’t like this book and I’ll try not to do those things in my writing. Proper, intellectual, writer-ly activity done. Now I’m moving on to great literature that I also love. I feel confident I’m learning more from that than I would from wading through another 300 pages of a story and writing that I hate.

So, I give unto you all the permission to read widely, read voraciously, read what you love, quit what you don’t like and to do it all guilt free. Count how many books you hopefully have left in your life and spend that number wisely!

Let us know in the comments section what your book number is and what’s at the top of your “must read” list!

Writer’s Cafe at the Rose Theatre 03 September 2013 with Mark Barrowcliffe

The Writer’s Cafe summer reading series returns on Tuesday, 03 September 2013 at 1:15pm. Come, enjoy a coffee and some fantastic writing from comedian and author Mark Barrowcliffe  and members of the community. If you have a poem or short selection of prose that fits the theme of “the devil is in the details” please come along and share your work! This is a great opportunity to get some exposure and support. You can email vivienneraper@gmail.com to book an open mic slot or just turn up on the day.

Mark Barrowcliffe

The final Writer’s Cafes featuring MFA lecturer  James Miller  will be on 08 October with open mic slots for community writers. Pieces for reading should be no longer than 5 minutes in length.

This is a wonderful opportunity to meet writers, get involved with Kingston Writing School and to get public reading experience if you’re a writer!

Think Your Writing Sucks? That’s a Good Thing

Vivienne Raper is working on a science fiction novel with the help of the Kingston MFA.

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It takes ten thousand hours of deliberate practice to become an expert. Spend 1,040 of an estimated 6,685 leisure hours each year to actively improve your fiction writing, and you’ll be a successful writer in 10 years. That’s according to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success, which aims to debunk the myth that some people are born geniuses.

The Beatles, Bill Gates and many other exceptional people, he argues, became brilliant through deliberate practice… Practice… And more deliberate practice. They set out purposefully to improve and stretch themselves. They taught others, surrounded themselves with like-minded people, sought feedback, worked on their weak spots and evaluated their progress.

The idea of natural talent is a myth common to many areas of life. Creative writing is no exception. There are serious discussions about whether fiction writing can be taught. Some authors believe literature emerges by spontaneous genius and teaching will make students emulate others at the expense of their own voice.

No one can give someone a voice if they have nothing to say. But, more typically, beginning writers struggle because they don’t know basic technique. Story construction. Scene construction. Sentence construction. Paragraph construction. How to construct convincing dialogue (tip: take a tape recorder on the bus). They also don’t know the idiosyncrasies of their chosen genre, whether it be literary fiction, women’s fiction or romance. They discover through brutal trial-and-error, familiarity and socialisation what editors and competition judges will accept, and what readers want to read.

Ten thousand hours of practice is a lot of books and stories read. Many short stories and novels written and rejected. Long evenings spent in workshops and critique groups hearing how to make work suck less.  Thousands of hours spent alone in front of a keyboard. Writing. Editing. Tearing up the thing you just wrote. Rewriting it again.

Does that sound harsh? Maybe. Perhaps you’re reading this thinking “I don’t need to do that. My friends think my work’s great. My first novel is a work of misunderstood genius”. If that’s the case, you’re on the starting blocks my friend. Ahead is one of the biggest causes of writer’s block out there. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is named after two social psychologists who discovered in 1999 an interesting fact about human behaviour. As shown in the graph below, people’s assessment of their own skill doesn’t rise in line with increasing experience. Geniuses know they’re geniuses. Partially-trained people can tell they suck.

Unskilled people don’t know they suck. They’re too incompetent to accurately judge their own performance. Say you woke this morning and thought “Hmmmm, I want to be a best-selling novelist like Dan Brown. Or maybe I want to write the Great American Novel” and hadn’t written a work of fiction longer than your last tax self-assessment. According to the Dunning-Kruger Effect, you can’t know your novel is rubbish because you don’t know enough about novel writing. In fact, you’re likely to think you’re the next J.K. Rowling or James Joyce, and publishers are ignoramuses.

We all know the stereotype of the unpublished novelist who believes their diabolical work is amazing and won’t listen to criticism. The real trouble comes when a humble unskilled writer embarks on ten thousand hours of deliberate practice. They march along the Dunning-Kruger curve, improving their performance. Hopeful. Joyful. Certain of imminent publication. Oblivious of the length of the road ahead. At some point or another, they realise “I suck. Everything I’ve written sucks. And I didn’t know.” Instant writer’s block. How do you continue writing when you know you suck? What’s the point? You’re only going to delete it anyway. Trouble is, you must practise writing rubbish so you can eventually rise swan-like from the bottom of the Dunning-Kruger curve.

Lesson learned? Embrace your knowledge that your writing sucks.  It means that you’re learning something. Carry on practising, improving, working on your weak points, putting your work out there. Learn from informed criticism and rejection. Suck. Fail. Learn. Suck less. Fail better.

Publishing success for Faiqa Mansab

As we approach the beginning of the new school year, No Dead White Men welcomes into its fold a new MFA cohort. Today, we have great news from one of our upcoming MFAs, Faiqa Mansab. She tells NDWM:

“I have recently been published under the pseudonym Zeenat Mahal by Indireads, an e-publishing venture that has taken on new writers from South Asia. Indireads itself is new, and is run by Naheed Hassan, a Harvard graduate who wanted to read South Asian romance, chick-lit, mystery and other genres. Two of my romance novellas, Haveli and The Contract, were published this May and can be found on the Indireads website.

Furthermore, Running out of Ink, an online international magazine also published a short romance piece that i wrote as Zeenat Mahal, in their August issue, 2013, The Accidental Fiancee.
I’m also editing for Running out of Ink. 
 
My short story, “The Walled City”, was published by The Missing Slate in June 2013. This was with my name, Faiqa Mansab.”
Many congratulations to Faiqa!

New Facebook Address

That’s right, our page now has enough love and followers that Facebook has deemed us worthy of our own address. You and everyone else in the world can now find us at:

www.facebook.com/KingstonMFA

Don’t forget to “like” us.

Oh! The excitement of it all.

Artwork by Alaa El Fadel

Conquering Writer’s Block

Dorin Rufer is in her second year of her Creative Writing MFA. She is an avid reader, writer, movie-goer and tea drinker. She is part of a podcast/blog adaptationpodcast.com about film adaptations and the original formats they are based on. She is also starting up her own blog: dogaru20.wordpress.com. Check her and her Chai Latte addiction out.

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There has been a long debate about whether or not writers block exists. The thing is, that it doesn’t matter. If you feel creatively blocked, what can you do?

It is something that I, personally have had to deal with for quite a few months. Whether stress, other obligations, personal troubles, or other are the cause of it doesn’t matter. Everyday distractions won’t go away. I used to say, “Oh, let me just do x, y, and z and then I will sit down and write” but another A-Z set of tasks was always right behind it.

Once I fell out of the habit of writing, it just seemed that I could not put the habit back in. The problem was, at least for me, that I was thinking too hard about it. I forced myself to sit in front of a notebook or computer and expected myself to write gold right away.

Now, I have allowed myself a regiment of journal pages. I write about three pages a day on anything. Mostly, at first, it was mostly venting about recent events, but more and more the subjects have become more profound and thoughtful. The date or something that just happened may put me in a state of memory or daydreaming, and I write it down.

This has inspired many short stories, bits of novels I have started, and even made me consider a memoir! It has built my confidence back up, and reminded me just to put one word in front of the other. Now, I probably still have a long road ahead before I feel the dam will break and I feel more free to sit down and write exactly what I want to, but I also consider myself a severe case of creative block. Because I am seeking to publish my work people always seem to ask me what market it is for? Who will read my book? Is it marketable? It feeds the little nay-saying voice in my head and makes it say “why bother?” like I am not good enough and no matter what I write it will be seen as junk and I am a failure.

I always just need to remind myself that my writing is valuable because I am the only one who can write it – told to me by author and tutor Rachel Cusk, and that all the things the others say or ask, including that horrible little voice in my head, are things to worry about later! I cannot let my fears about things to come allow the voice in my head to automatically be right, nor can I let all that stop my real voice from being heard! If you are like me, I hope you can do the same.

Now, I cannot exactly take credit for these journal pages, because they were set upon me through a book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which was recommended to me by a good friend. I can say, however, that this is my testimony that writing, no matter what kind, is still writing and puts the brain in the right mode to continue. So, my advice is, to myself and others, don’t worry about what you write, just write!

Amniotic City – Lucy Furlong’s Poetry Map Reviewed in The Guardian

Amniotic City

MFA poet, Lucy Furlong is featured by The Guardian today for her poetry map, Amniotic City. Dan Holloway describes her work as “a beautiful exploration of the way a city can consciously and unconsciously suppress an important part of its nature, and how a little imaginative trowel-work can reveal what is hidden – and transform the things you see around you every day.” You can read the entire glowing review on The Guardian website.

Lucy will also be reading this Saturday evening, 03 August 2013, at the Structo Issue 10 launch at 6pm in the Society Club in Soho, London. This lovely bookshop/gallery/cafe/bar is a hidden London gem and will be packed with fantastic writers and readers this weekend. The event is free, so drop in, hear some good writing and pick up a copy of this great magazine featuring the best poetry, fiction, essays and interviews from around the world. For more information on the Structo launch check out the event site.

The Society Club

Are you an MFA graduate, current student, lecturer or writer-in-residence with publishing or performance news? If so, let us know!

Writer’s Cafe at the Rose Theatre 06 August 2013 with Kayo Chingonyi

The Writer’s Cafe summer reading series returns on Tuesday, 06 August 2013 at 1:15pm. Come, enjoy a coffee and some fantastic writing from spoken word artist Kayo Chingonyi and members of the community. If you have a poem or short selection of prose that fits the theme of “musical words” please come along and share your work! This is a great opportunity to get some exposure and support. You can email vivienneraper@gmail.com to book an open mic slot or just turn up on the day.

Kayo Chingonyi at the Writer's Cafe Flyer

Writer’s Cafes featuring Writer-in-Residence Mark Barrowcliffe and MFA lecturer  James Miller  to follow in September and October with open mic slots every month. Pieces for reading should be no longer than 5 minutes in length.

This is a wonderful opportunity to meet writers, get involved with Kingston Writing School and to get public reading experience if you’re a writer!

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