Review: About Writing by Gareth L Powell

First of all – if you are a writer and you’re not following Gareth on Twitter get on over there right now and tick that follow box. Gareth is very generous with his time on Twitter and often does AMA’s and opens his feed to help writers. I’ll wait…

GLP _ about writing

As I posted here I’m kinda addicted to writing books. They come in many different flavours as I explain in that post. This one, subtitled “A field guide for aspiring authors” is a collection of dispatches from the front line. I was very happy that I got the chance to read and review this book before it launches in June. (I believe it’ll launch at Cymera where Gareth is on the programme)

If you can’t make that then order a copy from Luna Press

Despite the fact I got an ebook version (in return for an honest review I might add) I think the book is designed to slip into a pocket and carry with you, hence the “field guide” tag. It’s a collection of (often short) essays on many aspects of the writing life. It’s not just craft tips (but you will learn lots along the way) but more on how to approach being a writer. Many of the chapters started as blog posts and the book sometimes has a bit of a grab bag feel to it. The ebook ARC has no table of contents (I assume the actual book will).

Gareth starts by introducing the reader to Gareth’s friend Bill. Someone who desperately wants to be a writer but never writes anything. An instantly recognisable character type. And so the advice to “just write the fucking thing” is the first gem in the book.  The first chapter is advice for young people. The next chapter puzzled me a little – it’s all about how Gareth dislikes the term “aspiring writer” – and yet it’s right there as a subtitle for the book… I get the point though, you either write, and therefore are a writer, or you don’t (yeah Bill we’re all looking at you.)

Throughout the book are text boxes with pithy advice and tips. which are short, memorable and great advice in and of themselves. A few select chapter titles will give you a flavour of the book:

Where do you get your crazy ideas

Choosing your Twitter teachers

How to keep being creative in a crisis

Ten tips for novelists

Dreams

3 ways of finding more time to write

How I write

THE FEAR

etc.

No matter what your level is as a writer you’ll find hints and tips in here, and things of interest – like the seven books that had the greatest impact on Gareth or his own journey into becoming a published author.

You can read this in one sitting (I whizzed through it in seemingly no time) and then go back and re-read at leisure (which I’ve done before writing this review). I think the chapters on THE FEAR, how to keep writing, how to get your zing back and the creativity advice are worth buying the book for because they’ll be the chapters you’ll end up revisiting many times. (At least I will – I’m in search of that zing right now in fact)

In short – buy this book: slip it in your pocket along with a notebook and a pen, go for a walk and find a place to write (be it a coffee shop or out in nature) flip to the chapter on generating ideas and start writing.

 

 

 

Why so quiet?

I am briefly popping in to say that I’m generally pretty busy at the moment with the day job, editing Forgotten Sidekicks, reading a ton of background so the interviews at Cymera go well and progressing with Certainty of Dust (I’ve mailed a new synopsis to my editor last week and got a thumbs up so full steam ahead on the draft).

As well as having a story in the Best Horror of the year volume 11 a sory I edited, in the Hotwells Horror, by the inimitable Dave Bradley, has been chosen for Best British Scifi. I’m chuffed for Dave obviously.

 

Events

So far I’ve signed up to do a few events, with more cropping up throughout the year .

Penned Up – March 20th.

This is a literary event inside a prison, which is intriguing.

SFW X Part 1 – March 29-30th.

I’m on the programme being interviewed, talking about genre and doing a signing

Cymera Festival – June 7-9th.

I’ll be interviewing Richard Morgan on Friday the 7th and Cameron Johnson and Anna Stephens on Saturday 8th and Tade Thompson and Aliette de Bodard on Sunday 9th. The festival has a great looking programme – check it out.

FantasyCon Glasgow – October 18-20th.

The BFA suggestion list is open here if you can think of an eligible work go there and add it.

Bristol Festival of Literature – October 18-27th

Currently open for programme pitches, so if you have an idea mail them. The North Bristol Writers will be doing an event themed around “Fire” at the Old Fire Station on Thursday 24th

BristolCon – October 26th

Bristol’s very own SF&F convention. A great little con.

I’ll also be at the Edinburgh festival (as a punter) and Lyra poetry festival and probably a few more bookish events as well.

 

 

The last evil is hope

Pandora opened her box and let out all the evils that afflict mankind and the last thing left inside the box was hope.

Hope – a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen

Hope can be a cruel master and something all writers must struggle with. You hope your writing is good enough to be published, you hope it sells and is read when published, you hope it’s liked, you hope it gains the notice and praise of your peers, you hope it’s acclaimed, it wins awards, is a best-seller…

Hope springs eternal.

When I first started writing my measure of success was to be published. Now i’m published my measure is to do better with each subsequent book. Sell more, get more reviews, more notice.

It’s like when you were a child and they picked sides for a fottball (or netball) game. If, like me, you were a gawky kid you’d hope to be picked before the dregs. Pick me, oh please pick me. That’s the feeling of applying to appear at cons and festivals. And then if you’re picked and they ask you to bring along some books? Then you hope that you sell some, that you take back less than you came with.

Hope leads to anxiety and hope leads to envy. Twin evils all writers meet with at some point.  And all of it, all the dark thoughts, can only be banished by writing more. Although writing more does lead to more hope…

Heinleins five rules (with an additional one):

  • Rule One: You Must Write.
  • Rule Two: Finish What You Start.
  • Rule Three: You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order.
  • Rule Four: You Must Put Your Story on the Market.
  • Rule Five: You Must Keep it on the Market until it has Sold.
  • Rule Six: Start Working on Something Else.

 

Success and Failure

fear

 

So my story “Masks,” from The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors volume 1 has been chosen by Ellen Datlow for The best Horror of the Year volume 11 which I’m blown away by. It’s like going to a party and being surrounded by beautiful, famous people and wondering why you’re there, why you were invited. I mean my story is a peer with stories by Joe Hill? Michael Marshall Smith? Rob Shearman? etc. That’s pretty awesome, as in: adjective. causing or inducing awe; inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear.

Fear number one is Imposter Syndrome. Skip back to the previous paragraph and it’s right there – like being invited to a party… I’m thinly published. I have a collection of short stories and two novels that have failed to make a splash. OK the collection was shortlisted for the BFA, but I’ve been telling myself that was a fluke. It had to be right? I’m an imposter – they’ll find me out some day… ever since it was shortlisted I have been suffering from Fear number two.

Fear number two is fear of success. Well not of success per se, of the consequences of success. That people will read my stuff and have opinions. Crazy right? Isn’t that why we’re supposed to write – for people to read it? And people have subjective value opinions about any media they consume. I mean I do, I have very definite opinions of what I like and don’t like (as opposed to what is good and what is bad, which before I was a critic who wrote a review blog for several years I had mixed up).

Closely following fear number two is fear number three – fear of failure. What if this is it? What if nothing I write will ever be this good again, or catch the eye of the right person at the right time, or be published, be read, be liked?

In Scarlett Thomas’s Monkeys with Typrewriters she mentions in passing that most, if not all, writers suffer anxiety and a touch of depression – is that a function of the writing or is the writing a function of it? And there I go – still reading any writing books I can get my hands on, still waiting to read “the advice” that will make me a “real writer” – feeling that old fear number one again.

I read how Ellen chooses the stories, with her 30 odd years of experience; “For more than three decades, Ellen Datlow has been at the center of horror,” says Nightshade who publish the anthologies. “I read all the short fiction I’m aware of in any given year,” Ellen says. “As I read, I write down the stories I like, and the ones I really like, I mark with an asterisk… Then, toward the end of the year, I start rereading those marked stories. By this point I have ended up with at least twice the number of stories I can fit in the book, so my job is culling. By the time I’m done, I might have read some stories three or four times. If I still love them after that many readings I know they’re what I would consider the best of the year.”

Read the “praise for the Best Horror” blurbs on Nightshades page  The New York Times? Publisher’s weekly? That sound you just heard? It was my very audible gulp. People will read my work and they’ll have opinions and it’s possible they will look for more and that will lead to them reading my work and having opinions. Gulp.

Talking of failure, I’ve been failing to write my novel Certainty of Dust for a year or so – I told myself last year it was because I’d been editing a lot. I don’t have that excuse this year (despite editing another anthology with Grimbold Books) and I’ve got to the part I always get to where I need to revisit the planning.

I usually write a bare bones outline – bullet points and random brain dump – and then dive in with excitement (and a little trepidation). Then what’s happened for the last two novels has happened again, I’ve reached a little over 20,000 words and realised that the plan is inadequate, the brain dump has lots of extraneous details that’s not needed and the story isn’t what I thought it was about when I started. And so, with the previous two novels, I have re-planned, sucked it up and started again. For this one? I’m loathe to do that. And it comes from the underlying problem that is beneath fears one, two and three: Expectation.

Knowing that I need to re-plan I’ve been self-sabotaging – I’m stuck, I tell myself, although I know that I reached the same point previously with the other novels and how I can surmount that issue. Massive procrastination ensued. What if it’s a failure and I never write another? Well, what if it is? I’ll just write short stories, or a non-fiction book, or blog posts, or poetry or a play, a graphic novel, a TV or film script. Because you know what? It seems that I *am* a writer and writers write… bravery is not about not feeling fear, it’s about feeling fear but doing the thing anyway. Time for me to be brave!