Do you want to hear a story? The Listening Post will have plenty of them, for you to listen to – and add to, if you wish. This aural collection of short stories, curated for Margate Bookie, are written by local writers (like me!) as well as some of our MA students at Canterbury Christ Church. Intrigued? Come down to the Book Buoy, put on a pair of headphones, and set sail…
There seems to be no agreement on which author first said a writer had to write their “first million words” before they were really ready to write. Some attribute it to Ray Bradbury, while others cite Elmore Leonard namechecking John D. McDonald. I was certain it was Kurt Vonnegut, because he gives so much good advice. Whoever said it, I’m happy to reach my own million-word milestone. While I might not count them, draft after draft, I have proof of them in the form of morning pages: a million words, typed over my first cup of tea. Want your own badge? Join in at 750words.com. As for me, I’ll see you in the morning – doing pages!
I got my start in MsLexia, as they are kind enough to remember. It’s not too late to get your story in for the next Short Fiction Competition Deadline – 30 September. Want more information? Check the blurb below.
Got a great little short almost ready? Get writing!
Recently, I ran a flash fiction workshop for WhitLit’s Write Mind, a new initiative linking the act of writing with wellbeing. For the workshop, we looked at dribbles and rabbles (50 word & 100 word stories – title not included) as well as their longer-worded cousins, as a way to get started with getting our work out into the world. (This is not to imply that flash fiction is somehow “easier” to write than longer pieces – far from it – but the form seems particularly suited to giving opportunities for new writers, as there are so many festivals and on-line sites that actively want submissions.) As I promised the workshop participants a round-up of upcoming deadlines for flash fiction – here it is!
My workshop took place during the Flash Fiction Festival, run by Bath Flash Fiction. Bath has upcoming deadlines for flash fiction (a 300 word limit, which is called a trabble) on 13 October 2019 and novellas-in-flash (a short novella, not more than 18K with each flash no more than 1K) on 12 January 2020. Of their work, Bath Flash Fiction Festival says: Our goal is promote flash fiction for both writers and readers and to bring the genre to a wider audience. Running a three-times-a-year rolling flash fiction award with substantial prizes and chance of publication gives writers a big incentive to create great flash. And our new novella-in-flash award provides the opportunity to have a longer work released in a quality publication.
They also run Ad Hoc Fiction, which offers a weekly (and free) micro fiction competition as well as novellas-in-flash publications. Why not send them something? Follow the links to learn more about deadlines, guidelines & entry fees – a thorny issue for writers. (But publishers are aware that entry fees are not doable for many writers – many competitions have subsidised or free spots – and Reflex Fiction below offers a “choose your own fee” – surely, this is the way of the future!)
New Flash Fiction Review is the portal for the Anton Chekhov Price for Very Short Fiction, judged by Angela Readman. Submissions 800 words or fewer. There’s a 15 July deadline – be quick!
Here’s a link to The MsLexia Flash Fiction Award: Submit your best trabbles (300 word stories) before 30 September 2019. Sorry/not sorry this is women only. Placing 3rd in a MsLexia short story contest gave me a real boost, when I was starting out, and there will always be acreage in my heart for MsLexia.
Reflex Fiction runs the quarterly Reflex Flash Fiction Competition which lets writers “choose their own fee” for submissions – a great idea! Reflex is ALWAYS accepting submissions with a rolling series of deadlines for their contests – and they publish a story every day! Still trying to figure out what flash fiction “is”? Check out this Reflex page.
Best Micro-Fiction is an anthology, looking for work with fewer than 400 words. Accepting submissions until 1 December 2019.
The on-line flash-fiction magazine SmokeLong Quarterly publishes stories weekly & quarterly. They accept submissions for work under 1000 words for publication – as well as for the prestigious Smokelong Quarterly Award – be sure to check early 2020 for details about that. Smokelong is a terrific resource of stories, demonstrating what flash fiction is & can do, as well as interviews with writers.
Can you write a story in fewer than 40 words using the prompt “milk moustache?” Then the One Sentence Story Contest is for you! Enter by 8 September.
National Flash Fiction Day may be over, but NFFD are already planning for 2020. There’s plenty of time to write your dribbles and drabbles – and submit!
Today we wrote about magic – through objects like some of the ones you see here: ordinary trinkets filled with mystical powers, talismans to guide protagonists through improbable, imaginary worlds. There were magic cats and rebel angels, split geodes that turned into cradles. We talked about how senses root a character in time and place, but also give them histories and memories, rich backstories that can be “held” in a magical object that they can draw on when things get tough. And they do, when you’re “what if-ing.” We made a list of unlikely scenarios of what would happen next. What if the ground becomes toxic and your characters have to take to the trees – with a silver walnut? What if a magic circle opens in a ruined world and offers you a way out? Today’s writers left with portals, ways in to new characters and stories.
We didn’t have enough time – there never is! – to cover every concern of every writer. And when we’re writing – or wanting to – we always have concerns: is this right, am I good, why can’t I finish, what am I doing? However, we did talk about where ideas come from – they are all around us, if we can stay open to them. We talked about how to build stamina (or, as some called it, discipline): for this, I always recommend “morning pages” – follow thishttps://peggyriley.com/2019/04/04/time-for-morning-pages/ follow the link to read more about their magic.
Next week, we’ll be working on the “short-short story” in my last workshop for Write Mind & Whitstable Lit. Why not join in?
I have two workshops left with the wonderful new Whitstable initiative Write Mind, developed with WhitLit, the Whitstable Literary Festival, and Canterbury Council. Follow the link to learn more about the programme, including other writing workshops with author Andrew McGuinness and plenty of book chats, and to book your space. Guess what? The workshops are only £5, giving new writers a real chance to have a go!
Saturday 22 June: 11 – 12:30 WHAT IF?
Writers thrive on the game of “what if” to make stories and characters move in unexpected directions. Using a series of prompts & magical objects, workshops writers will work to create improbable worlds where anything can happen!
Saturday 29 June: 11 – 12:30 DRIBBLES & DRABBLES
The final Write Mind workshop will focus on the short-short story: 50 – 100 words, to be exact. Through prompts and guided writing, writers will have the chance to write, edit & polish and short-short story.
Could you use some daily prompts for your morning pages? Following on from our recent morning pages workshops, let me introduce you to Dr. Julie: her site, Dr. Julie Journaling (for wellbeing and success) features daily prompts that you might use as inspiration for your own writing. You can subscribe to receive them in your inbox – or visit her whenever you need a new idea.
You can also work with her at Margate Bookie’s Write Up: Why not give her a try?
Last week, I had the opportunity to run a series of morning writing workshops for Whitstable Wellness Week. In these workshops, we wrote, we talked about writing, and we looked at all the ways that morning pages can work for writers. I think a lot about writing and morning pages. In fact, I’m thinking about morning pages this morning, while I write my own morning pages, writing my way into the day.
What are morning pages? They’re an idea introduced by Dorothea Brande in Becoming a Writer in 1934 and re-introduced by Julia Cameron in her transformative The Artist’s Way. But the form might be ancient, of course – any time a writer sits down to write with intent in the morning can be considered some kind of morning pages. Brande asks that we wake through the writing, that we reach for pen and paper (or in her case, typewriter) as early as possible, so that we can begin writing before we are fully awake and before the editor in our heads can wake up and tell us the writing’s no good. Aim for 3 pages in a notebook – or 750 words. What words? Brande suggests it doesn’t matter: you are aiming for “quantity, not quality”. You are simply filling the pages to train your mind and hand that you are in control of when writing happens – no muse awaits you, no editor can stop you.
In this rapid writing, we are able to come to terms with what we think, as we have written it, and how we feel, as we might not yet have been able to express. New thoughts and feelings, memories and impressions bubble up to the surface, summoned. Somehow between the lists of worries and plans and concerns and intentions, there is always something that seems to come of its own accord, a glimmer of something that hints at something new – a new way forward, a fresh approach, an unexpected connection. We write to fill the pages, to train the mind and fingers for the stamina and discipline that writing demands, but we also create the clean white page and the moment in time that allows for breakthroughs, for the work that is in our heads already to come out and show itself. Done regularly, this action becomes a ritual – and then it becomes a routine. It becomes a normal impulse, allowing a writer to set the day up through her words. (What if you’re not a morning writer? Even the idea of “morning” is elastic: morning pages can begin your “writing day”, whenever that time comes. If you’re a night writer, morning pages can draw a line under the day that has happened and create the sense of morning, as you settle in.)
I saw all kinds of breakthroughs throughout the week as writers opened their notebooks or laptops and returned to the page. In the beginning, I offered only gentle prompts to get them started – and these prompts could be returned to while writing, in case of feeling stuck or unable to write anything else. If you come back to the prompt and write it, you are always writing. And if there is any kind of “rule” about morning pages, it is that you should keep your hands moving and fill the page before you stop to think about all the reasons you might stop. We used such simple prompts as: I want/I don’t want; I think/I don’t think; I remember/I don’t remember; or Today I/yesterday I, Tomorrow I… Sometimes we wrote ourselves into the room, using all five senses to root us into time and space: what do we see; what do we hear; what do we smell; what do we taste; what can we touch/what touches us. We wrote our way through light and pressure, temperature and proximity, where we were in our bodies, in the room, the building, the town, the world. And from there, there are always new directions, tentacling out from every sense. Sometimes, writers had a story in their heads as they arrived, and they were able to write their way into their own characters, using these five senses, to root them into story-time and story-place: this can be a powerful way for a writer to slip under the skin of a character, to see the world through her eyes and to capture what she notices. And from those sensory details can come whole backstories, memories, connections and objectives. The senses point at a person who whole and formed, capable of her own thoughts and feelings – we only have to follow them and her, into a scene.
Sometimes I offered first lines, “firestarters” as writer/poet/psychogeographer Sonia Overall calls them in her workshops: some lines I pinched from her. “That was when it happened”, and “I could see the fire from there”, and “I can still see it” are the ones I like to use. Sometimes I kept throwing words out – simple nouns for writers to catch and stitch into their writing: this idea of “word cricket” was introduced by write Vanessa Gebbie in a flash fiction workshop. We also talked about how these batches of 750 words could themselves be made of dribbles and drabbles and pieces of flash fiction that might stitch into something larger, such as Sophie van Llewyn’s novella-in-flash Bottled Goods, or simply hint at new ideas that will lead to new projects. Really, the possibilities are limitless. The form of morning pages are elastic enough to contain any thought, idea or feeling: that is what they are, after all – a container. Morning pages contain – and guard – and hold our writing, our sense of selves as writers, and our desire to engage with the words.
There are morning pages workbooks and journals. There is an online site for morning pages – which I use, 750words.com. But really, all you need is something to write on and with, along with the determination and will to write. If we write, we are writers. When we tell ourselves that this time and this writing matters, that we reach for our writing at the start of the day, we reinforce the idea that our life must align itself around this desire – this urge – to write. And maybe the universe will follow.
Whether you’re down or up, rushed or calm, so busy you can hardly see – morning pages are a fresh start – every day. A new beginning, waiting for you. I believe in their subtle power and have, through almost ten years of writing them, watched them enter and transform my writing life. It was a genuine pleasure to see the idea take hold in this small, evolving group in Whitstable, and if the group is able to carry on, it will be my genuine pleasure to sit among them, reaching for words.
My next outing on the morning pages train will be at Kent Festival of Writing. If you’re coming – see you there!
There’s a new festival in town: Whitstable Wellness Week runs 23 – 29 March 2019. Whitstable Wellness Week offers creative workshops from art to dance, writing to cooking – free. Organised by Escape to Create’s Catriona Campbell and Red Zebra, which provides social prescribing in East Kent, Whitstable Wellness Week seeks to encourage people living with physical or mental health conditions, and those who are lonely or feeling low, to try one or more creative activity during the week to see if it helps them feel better.
Every morning throughout the festival, I’ll be running a morning pages workshop at the Horsebridge, with tips and prompts to get people writing – and keep them going. I know morning pages can help anyone to feel better! For more information, visit Whitstable Wellness Week. See you at the morning pages!
Following on from the Character Questionnaire exercise that came out of last week’s masterclass, here is another writing experiment to help think about characterisation. Your character is decluttering with Marie Kondo. Which of their possessions still spark joy, and are kept? Which do they thank for their service and donate to Oxfam? What do they junk…