The Joy of Restraints: deadlines, themes and wordcounts.

BY CATHRYN BURGE

In theory, writing a story which might be included in an anthology seemed like a wonderful idea. In practice, it seemed like a very stupid one. Once I’d decided to go for it, every single story seed I’d ever had promptly withered and died. I wandered around for days trying to shake something promising out of my brain, but to no avail. Cue self-doubt and panic: I’d blithely committed myself to producing something and I couldn’t even think of anything suitable, let alone write it. Worse still, there was a deadline, an absolute date by which I’d agreed to submit a story for publication. It seemed like the only answer might be gin.

Forest. I rolled the word around my brain as I walked the dog. What sprang to mind when I heard the word ‘forest’? What pictures formed in my head?

Teddy bears. Yep, teddy bears. ‘If you go down to the woods’ and all that, swiftly followed by Goldilocks and axe-men intent on lopping the heads of princesses at the behest of jealous step-mothers. Ridiculous, I told myself; you’ll have to think again. Continue reading

No writer is an island

by Cathryn Burge

If there’s an opinion piece type that’s guaranteed to raise my blood pressure, it’s one in which the author pontificates about How To Write – particularly if their pontificating is dressed up as well-meant advice. And there are lots of articles like that out there, especially on the internet. Here, have a small selection:

  • If I’m reading a Western story and the author has tried to render the characters’ accents phonetically via non-standard spelling, I stop reading. Please don’t.
  • I don’t judge … well, actually, I do. I stopped reading a romantic story when the author thought the expressing ‘sucking face’ would make a nice change from ‘kissing’. It didn’t.
  • Careless spelling in summaries augurs ill for a story. ‘Adam’s proposal peeked Rickard’s interest’. Peeked. PEEKED. Someone please tell the author the word they were looking for was ‘piqued’.
  • Another phrase I’m sick of reading is ‘their tongues fought for dominance’.

Don’t get me wrong: we (almost) all do it. We look at other writers’ work and pass judgement on it. After all, why shouldn’t we? Developing the ability to differentiate between what works and what doesn’t can help us make our own writing better. But how can we be sure of what’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad’? What standards do we use to guide us? Continue reading