Posted on August 15, 2013 in becoming a writer, Character, comedy, creative writing, inspiration, miss create, Procrastination, professional writing, Uncategorized, Writer's Block, Writing by MissCreate
A couple of months ago, my other half was having trouble sleeping, and it suddenly dawned on me that I should do what my mother did to help him fall asleep: tell him a really boring story. My mum was a gifted storyteller, but she deliberately crafted dull and long-winded tales to coax the recipient into sleep. It was for this reason that I created Gordon the Accountant from Dudley, an almost painfully dull man with a penchant for the colour brown. I really thought that Gordon would inspire snoring within minutes, and not only that, but he’d send me off to sleepwards too.
I couldn’t have predicted that far from send him to sleep, my stories actually inspired a barrage of excited questions. Would Gordon ever break free from his mundane existence? Why didn’t he and his sour, controlling wife have children? What was Gordon like as a teenager?
Gordon, apparently, really has shape as a character. He is likeable, possibly even loveable.
Not only that, but I discovered that Gordon was funny. After several recordings of oral storytelling (during which I have to apologise for my inexplicably Scouse take on a Dudley accent), I decided to begin writing about Gordon. I have to say, it was a pleasure to sit down and write about Gordon, and truth be told, I love him a little bit already. This is definitely a work in progress so far, but I wanted to share it on here. Of course, I welcome any comments or suggestions. And if you fall asleep, I truly apologise!
‘Work in progress: Gordon Banks’
“I saw a beetle in me bathroom this morning.”
The man sniffed, rubbed his bulbous red nose and continued.
“Crawling up the sink, it was, quite a slow crawl if I recall. It looked a bit like a pumpkin seed, except a pumpkin seed that walks or, y’know, crawls. A slow crawl. It had these long feelers, probably a good couple of millimetres, three millimetres or perhaps four, no, three, and it had long back legs too like a cricket. You know how they bend backwards at an angle, an angle of about forty-five degrees I’d say, or not quite a right angle, more like forty-eight point five or maybe forty-seven or even forty -”
The blonde woman who had been on the receiving end of such anecdotes for quite some time smoothed down her red polyester skirt and gave an almost wincing smile of apology.
“Would you excuse me, please? I’m just going to the loo.”
“Forty- eight point two, perhaps,” the chubby man in the brown suit continued, before looking up to see her swiftly retreating back as she bustled down the train carriage. “Oh.”
His bottom lip sagged with mild disappointment, and he busied himself with his briefcase. It was rather battered, but the brown leather case with a foolproof combination of 1066 had lasted him almost his entire career in accountancy. It clicked open with a familiar rusty creak to reveal a neat paper-clipped wad of A4 with margins hand-drawn in blue biro, a black balance book with ‘GORDON BANKS’ inscribed on the spine, and an underripe banana. Gordon’s bottom lip protruded again for a moment, then he sucked it back in and withdrew the banana. Brenda never let bananas gain as much as a freckle. As soon as she saw a hint of ripeness, she threw them away as she genuinely believed that bananas should be “crunchy and green, otherwise they’ve gone orf”. For thirty years, Gordon hadn’t consumed a ripe (or he suspected, digestible) banana. Although he had resigned himself to the furry feeling on his teeth and the chronic indigestion from Brenda’s unripe fruit, he had never understood how a woman who insisted soft fruit should be al dente should boil vegetables to an unrecognisable grey slime.
Still, he ate it.
There was then a brief flicker of anxiety as Gordon wondered what to do with the banana skin. There were surely bins on the train, but he’d have to leave his seat to find them. Leaving his seat meant that Fiona the Book-keeper from Harlesden in the red suit might come back from the toilet, find him gone, and then move elsewhere for the rest of the journey. She’d think he was bored of her company! No, he would throw the skin out later, but there was now the problem of where to hide the offending skin. He didn’t want Fiona the Book-keeper from Harlesden to see the potential eyesore of a crumpled banana skin laid out on the plastic table in front of her. Brenda loathed “lazy slatterns” who left food waste on show, and he’d hate Fiona to think he was a lazy slattern. What to do? He fumbled the skin up into a loose ball, bundling it into his jacket pocket. No good: it poked out the top like a dysfunctional handkerchief. Now he could see a flash of red returning up the carriage, so he sharply pulled the skin out of his pocket and shoved it out of sight into the briefcase with an echoing snap.
Fiona the Book-keeper sat back down, oblivious to the great banana skin debacle.
“Did you, uh, have a nice…” Gordon tailed off. It wasn’t the done thing to enquire about whether people enjoyed their trips to the toilet, after all.
Her response was one nervous snort, or perhaps it was a giggle. Fiona was the exactly sort of lady that Brenda wouldn’t want him looking at. Blonde, with a spiral perm, two strands dangling over her face like the antennae of an exotic butterfly. The rest of her hair was pinned in a chignon, but the curls were straining to escape. She had a naturally pretty, glowing sort of face with slightly wrinkled grey eyes. She looked no older than forty, and her slim legs, not that Gordon had looked, could pass for thirty.
It was funny how they’d been brought together. On a train full of people, the two people attending the same event chose to sit next to each other. She’d noticed the minute she sat down, taking one look at the red badge on Gordon’s lapel and pointing to hers with a dazzling smile.
For Fiona and Gordon were both members of the Accountancy and Revenue Service Exchange. Unfortunately, the organisation went by its acronym. This resulted in Gordon and Fiona wearing circular badges emblazoned with ‘A.R.S.E’. It was unknown if the organisation even realised that its acronym spelt a crude word, but members of the Accountancy and Revenue Service Exchange delighted in saying that they were “going up the arse” if they had to visit the organisation. Today, Gordon was certainly going up the arse, although Brenda would object to any such language. In fact, she had taken a black marker pen to Gordon’s badge and scrawled a huge black line down the middle of the acronym. What she had, in fact, done, was given the acronym that spelled ‘arse’ a rather apt crack.
The reason for going up the arse with Fiona? All A.R.S.E members were to attend the yearly ‘Away Day’ function. It was held where it was always held, at headquarters in Peterborough on a grey, nondescript business estate. For thirty years, the Away Day had followed exactly the same itinerary. Members who had been to an Away Day before no longer even received an itinerary, as they “knew what to expect”.
Gordon couldn’t complain. An Away Day was just that: a trip on the train, a chance to see different faces and different (albeit grey) scenery.
He was suddenly aware that Fiona was gazing out of the window, possibly losing interest. He needed to hook her back in, and fast. He cleared his throat with a rich phlegmy hum.
“It was big, that beetle in the bathroom,” continued Gordon, his Dudley accent flattening the words dead. “Like a pumpkin seed.”
Yesterday, I was cleaning the bathroom with the radio on in the background, and Ian Brown’s song ‘F.E.A.R’ (2001) started playing. I remember when this song came out – I have always been one to listen to the words, and I was struck by just how clever the lyrics were. Every line of the song is constructed to spell F.E.A.R, for example ‘Forget Everything And Remember’ or the rhyming ‘Fantastic Expectations, Amazing Revelations’. What was especially clever about the song was that the lyrics seemed to make sense, despite the obvious challenge of only having words that begin with F, E, A and R to choose from in one particular order.
In 2004, as a 17 year old student, I experimented with Brown’s idea and wrote an acronymic poem. At the time, I was horribly infatuated with a fatuous long-haired guitarist who wore paisley shirts. I was in a perpetual cycle of conflicting emotions – I thought he was wonderful, but I also knew he was a bit of a prick; I wanted him to want me, but I knew that he didn’t. It was clear that I had to bury these feelings, but something more than a penchant for paisley was stopping me. As a result, my acronymic poem was named ‘Why Can’t I move on?’, with every stanza spelling out the phrase. This poem will resonate for anybody who wants desperately to be ‘over’ someone. I like to think that by the end of the poem, I had gained the strength to realise that I needed to forget him and indeed, move on.
Here it is:
WHY CAN’T I MOVE ON?
Wide Hoarse Yawns
Constrict A Nauseous Throat
My Obsessive Vaccuum, Emotions
Writer’s Heart Yearns,
Creates A Naive Truth
Mirages… Optimistic Visions Excuse
Wonderful Hedonistic “Yes!”
Conjured Adequately, Now Tedium
Morose Observations, Verging Effectively
What His Youth
Constitutes: Antisocial Need To
Mind Or Voice. Epitome
Words Heal, Yet
Cardiac Apathy Numbs Tired
Mundane Occurrences Violate Expression:
Why Hate You?
Contact Avoided. Never Talking
Me: Outcast Victim. Eventual
The revelation came to me quite suddenly, as I was contemplating the Great Blank Screen Syndrome. The problem with plucking words from my head to put onto paper was not that I couldn’t write, it was that I had a million and one excuses for why I couldn’t write at that precise moment. Excuses that fell apart on closer inspection, the way cotton wool creaks and breaks when it’s stretched.
Sometimes, my excuse for not writing is that I’d rather do something less taxing. Paint my nails. Trawl eBay for bargains. Clean the bathroom. You see, writing requires a certain degree of mental exercise. Have you ever put off going to the gym or doing a few sit-ups just because you don’t quite feel like it, only to experience the crushing guilt later that you really should have made an effort; that your fitness will suffer now, that you will in fact never exercise again thanks to your appalling laziness? I know I have, and I go through similar emotions when I put off writing.
Another big excuse is the fact that I just have nothing to write. This is the biggest, and possibly the best excuse for not writing. It’s the easiest cop-out I have, and it’s unquestionably the best way to console myself that “Of course I don’t need to write right now, after all, I can’t possibly conjure an idea out of thin air!” Of course, that is absolute rubbish. Thinking like this is a soaped-up slippery slope, as the longer you entertain thoughts that you have nothing to write or, even worse, “Writer’s Block”, the greater the excuse you have to put off writing forever. If I were to give myself a Really Stern Talking To, I would tell myself not to be so bloody pathetic, to pull my finger out and sit at my desk until I’d written something. Because once you have a few words down, you have cheated the voice of doubt that says you have nothing to write. You have the evidence right there in front of you, even if you have only written your own name.
Well, what of the agonising self-doubt that prevents me from writing? Hmm, we are dealing with a slightly larger issue here which needs to be handled with tweezers and precision rather than hacking merrily away at it. It did (and does) me no good to pity myself and believe that writing is too painful and difficult to pursue. I worry constantly about my writing: is it too personal; does it make sense; does it sound like me; have I regurgitated the work of the author I’m currently reading; can I sustain it; will anybody care at all about what I’ve written; who would even want to read this crap, and so on. It’s ever so easy to dig myself so far into a hole that I can practically feel the worms tickling my face. However, I suffer on a larger spectrum of low self-esteem, and questioning or countering self-doubt can be difficult. It’s something I need to learn to do to progress, or the alternative is facing that dull, dark, earthy hole for the rest of my life.
And so, the revelation that the only barrier to my writing is me, is not just a revelation but an incentive to change. If I am cutting off my capacity to write because I don’t feel like it and it’s out of my comfort zone, what else in life am I missing? I don’t feel like I have the answers to what and how to write yet, but I’ve taken full responsibility for myself as a writer now. And it’s a good feeling.
For my latest piece of writing, I was asked to write another article on the subject of headaches for the headache sufferer’s haven, Temple Headache www.templeheadache.co. As somebody who has groaned and cowered cursing in a darkened room through migraine, I have a great deal of empathy with headache sufferers. Because of this, I am happy to offer up any tips, advice and experience I have in the hope that it provides some relief to somebody out there. I know the helplessness of headaches first-hand.
My latest article is a short non-fiction article about the benefits of keeping a food diary, and how it helped me. The language is very simple and concise, as I want it to be accessible to all readers. It’s designed to be a quick read, so by all means, make a cup of tea and read it here: http://www.templeheadache.co/headache-after-eating/headache-after-eating-keeping-a-headache-diary
One of my projects this week was to write a press release. I’ll be absolutely honest with you here and admit that I wasn’t entirely sure what a press release was. I understood that it involved the press, and presumably its purpose was to release news. But I had no idea what a press release actually involved, or even what one might look like.
Luckily, the talented Mister Jack of the Corbyn family was at hand to help. He sent me an example of a successful press release he had written, along with a handy little six paragraph formula that I’m lucky enough to be able to share with you.
In the rare case that you are as clueless as I was, a press release is a short article that is sent to the press to gain attention and publicity. An effective press release will raise lots of awareness and spark interest in the subject when it is read.
It goes without saying that a press release needs to have a purpose, or what Mister Jack refers to as a “call to action”. Simply put, this is what you are hoping to gain through the press release. For example, you may be writing to gain publicity for somebody’s achievements, in which case your call to action would be to tell the press that the subject is available for interviews. The call to action is the most important part of a press release, so make sure you know your objective before you begin to write.
Once you’ve established your call to action, here is Mister Jack’s Simple Guide to Writing a Successful Press Release:
– Hook the reader with an “Attention Grabbing Title”
Be specific and factual about the subject of the press release, but literary techniques such as alliteration and emotive language will make it sound more appealing. This is important because the press will receive thousands of press releases a day – you don’t want yours heading straight for the bin because the title let you down, so make it stand out. For example, if you are writing about a winning athlete, instead of writing “X wins Gold at triple jump”, you might write “X leaps to victory and secures triple jump Gold”. It contains the same information, but the language is slightly more evocative, with words such as ‘leap’ and ‘victory’ adding a sense of drama.
– Add a subtitle that relates to the call to action, for example “X is available for television appearances and interviews to discuss her Olympic triumph”.
– Paragraph One
Give more details about the title and the news story. A brief summary will be more than sufficient!
– Paragraph Two
The second paragraph gives more details about the news story such as the ‘where’ and the ‘what for’, including a possible quotation from “someone with clout in the industry”. As Mister Jack points out, a direct quotation from a relevant person with “clout” will impress the reader and raise interest in the subject of the article.
– Paragraph Three
This is where you can really dissect the news story (the ‘what’, ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘when’) and its background (the ‘why’ and the ‘how’). It’s important not to go off on a tangent here – try to stay as relevant to the story as you can, and be concise. Consider this: if your story is about the subject inventing a groundbreaking electronic device, the press will probably not be interested in the fact that he or she used to wear yellow wellies when they were four years old, or that they like to bathe in cold mushroom soup on a Friday night (though this, perhaps, is questionable…)
– Paragraph Four
The fourth paragraph gives a history to the subject of the press release. Add any important “milestones” and obstacles here, but again, keep it relevant to the story.
– Paragraph Five
This is where you can discuss what the press and other people have said about the subject. Pepper this paragraph with quotations and testimonials to make your subject sound really impressive. Effectively, this is the “bigging up” part of the press release.
– Paragraph Six
Close your story. Add a rhetorical question such as “Is there anything X can’t achieve now?” to give your reader something to think about. Lastly, give the call to action, and make it loud and clear!
And that’s it. Mister Jack’s simple guide to writing a press release could not have been easier to follow. I now feel absolutely confident about writing a press release, and I hope this guide will help some of you, too.
A journey of inkblots, scribbles and an overwhelming fondness for the Delete key
I set out on my journey to become a writer as the result of a not-so-amazing revelation. There was no lightbulb moment, no mighty thunderclaps or frenzied whoops of ‘Eureka!’ It was a simple thought, a thought on a par with ”I quite fancy a cup of tea” in the unordinary stakes. The thought was this: if I like to write and I’ve been told I have a skill for it, then I should write. That was the day I decided that I would begin working towards my dream of becoming a writer. You may also be pleased to know that I did have a cup of tea that day.
This blog documents my efforts, achievements and mistakes on the road to becoming a writer. With gritted teeth, I will bare my raw, half-baked and perhaps even overdone work to you readers. I hope that other aspiring writers will stumble upon this blog and pick up some ideas and advice along the way.
You may be wondering why I chose the name Miss Create. Well, the obvious reason would be that I am using this blog as a creative outlet. However, being a typically self-deprecating Brit, it also stands as an acknowledgement that I do and will mess things up occasionally! This blog is not a place for bragging or fishing for positive comments – I’ll be entirely honest on here and be the first to say, I’m not a perfect or polished writer. I’m here to record my journey, to learn and grow as a writer in the hope of helping others to do the same. I’ll begin by divulging a little of my love affair with writing…
My first love was poetry. I began writing it at the age of six, using basic rhyming couplets. The subjects of my poetry spanned from teddy bears and magic keys to a dark, lonely and loveless existence. To this day, I’m not sure I’ve ever written something so morbid as one particular poem I wrote when I was six that contained the considerably morose lines, “the fire is bubbling./Everybody needs life./I am lying down to die”. Sorry for that one, mum.
I became infatuated with poetry again when, fittingly, I became infatuated. I was seventeen and the subject of my work was a boy who used to sit under trees and scribble furtively in his pocketbook. With the guidance of a professional writer who was instrumental in helping me to discover my individual voice, I produced a portfolio of visual prose, poetry and short prose that was beautifully assembled into a book which I still have today. Admittedly, I find it hard to look back at that book without cringing. The rawness of poetry really exposes the bare-faced naivety and melodrama of unrequited adolescent love. I happened to have a brief fling with him years later, and unfortunately he didn’t live up to my expectations. In fairness, he couldn’t possibly have produced the sparks or fireworks that I fantasised and frothed about. That, readers, is the dangers of putting somebody on a poetic pedestal!
At University I took modules in Creative Writing, and I’d love to say that the tuition was beneficial, but in fact I found myself slowly losing my voice until the words on the page became the words of a stranger. When learning to write in particular styles and formats, I can’t advise you strongly enough to keep track of your own individual flair. Learning to write professionally can be very formulaic. Others will pass their style onto you like a very unflattering hat, and you will probably bear scars from harsh criticism of the words closest to your heart. If you decide to learn to write, don’t do what I did and blindly accept editing – be sure to keep enough ‘you’ in your writing to keep that voice alive.
You see, after University, I didn’t even particularly want to write. I didn’t even try for a few years. I was in relationship with a non-writer/non-reader (a geologist, in fact) and I no longer identified with the creative soul I once was. After a while, in times of boredom I would sit down to write and face a blank computer screen. Then I would occasionally churn out a short story or half a poem, but it never truly felt like me.
It was only a year ago, after I met somebody exceptionally creative who fired up my inspiration and noticed my talent, that I realised I still wanted to write. First, I set up a blog. Blogging has been indescribably helpful in rediscovering my voice, and I can’t recommend it enough if you want to get back in the habit of writing. I experimented with different writing styles including song lyrics (sadly this was not my forte!), erotic fiction, short stories, therapy scripts and sales copy. Since starting my blog, I have ventured into writing professional copy and articles, and I have discovered that this is work that I truly enjoy. My love of writing is slowly returning, drop by drop.
And there, in a larger nutshell than I intended it to be, is why I write and who I am. I am Miss Create, and this is my journey.