The Modern Super-Power – Part Two

Want a super-power? Concentrate*…

Man, that was HARD. I wrote recently about focusing on one thing at a time. I’d been listening to a podcast where Tim Ferris said he’d once heard someone say that being able to focus on one task at a time for up to two to five hours was the modern-day equivalent of a superpower.

If you write, you’ve turned procrastination into an art form. I have. My distractions include the cat. Oh, where are you wee Freddie, do you want a little cuddle? To be honest, most of the time, he probably wants to be left alone to sleep in peace.

Then, I run up and down stairs engaged in trivial tasks, such as putting my empty Diet Coke bottle in the recycling bin when it could quite happily wait until lunchtime. Or I check my emails and react to them, instead of doing what the professionals tell you and checking them, prioritising and replying to them once or twice a day.

I decided I would try to write for two hours straight without the distractions. I usually listen to the radio, so I turned that off. I closed Mailbird, so I didn’t see any notifications of new emails, and I highlighted things that I needed to look up, such as London tube station locations, so I didn’t surf the web while writing.

The discipline I needed! My first challenge was overhearing a conversation going on below me. Yes, I am that little old lady beloved of novelists who twitches the net curtains and peers out of the window at her neighbours. (Not so old though.) I desperately wanted to duck down beside the window ledge and see what was going on.

Then, I finished my Diet Coke and longed to take the empty bottle downstairs and out to the recycling bin. The bed in the spare room needed to be made (I’d left it earlier because the cat was sleeping on it) and while I was trying to find a way to describe a new male character, I itched to go next door and toss the duvet in the air.

But if you don’t count a toilet trip, I did it: two hours’ straight of writing and one whole chapter was the result.

To celebrate, I folded up all the socks that needed pairing. And now I’m off to make the bed in the spare room and annoy the cat.

Rock and roll, eh??

 

*Pic thanks to Maxipixel.

 

The Modern-Day Super Power

And today’s challenge is… I listened to a podcast earlier, where the guest was Tim Ferris known for books such as The Four Hour Body/Working Week and others.

During the podcast, which centred on self-improvement, he quoted someone who’d come up with the line that in today’s world, if you are able to focus on one thing only for two to five hours, it’s the modern-day equivalent of a superpower.

What do you get if you focus solely on one thing for two hours, then? I’m on a mission to find out. When I write, I seldom, if ever, complete any piece of writing without doing something else at the same time.

Mostly, I’m listening to the radio. But I’m also watching the email icon, and if I get a new e-mail, I’ll come out of Word and read it. Then, I might write something and feel the need to look stuff up—whether it’s fact checking or the thesaurus as I seek an alternative to a word I keep using. Or I’ll just look up anything random that pops into my mind.

There’s one piece of work I do every week that I never manage to write without doing something else. I wander off to see if my cat wants attention, or I check on the washing hanging outside. I fold up clothes or change the sheets on my bed. As I don’t find the work inspiring at all, it’s an effort to finish it. It would be much less of an effort if I just concentrated, wrote the whole lot at once and got it over and done with.

Ah, procrastination… thine embodiment is the writer.

The radio? Switch it off. My inbox? Close the mail app. Checking things—highlight them as a reminder to verify or refine after the words have been written. Housework? It will wait.

Here goes…

 

Pic thanks to Topher McCulloch on flickr

 

The Making of Alan Kirkpatrick

Here’s a short extract from a project I’m working on…

“Oh wow. You’re so pretty.”

Kippy wasn’t sure he liked a man touching his face, but Danny had reached out a hand and swept two fingers slowly from the temple to his jaw.

“I adore freckles.”

There was another thing Kippy wasn’t sure about: campness. Danny was as camp as Christmas, as the saying went. The party hadn’t been his idea, but Lillian insisted. She’d kind of taken him under her wing when he first arrived in Glasgow. She was very posh, but then he and posh girls got along if Daisy had been anything to go by.

Kippy was older than everyone else at art school, apart from Lillian whose parents had been wealthy enough to finance her through not just one, but two gap years. She swooped on him on their first day.

“Ooh—and what’s your name, precious?”

He was monosyllabic, partly through nerves and because he didn’t want to get into yet another Daisy situation where a woman fell for him.

She shook her head when he said ‘Kippy’. “I’m not calling you that. What’s your real name?”

“Alan Kirkpatrick.” He was still mumbling, hoping this pushy blonde would push off.

“Hmm,” she wrinkled her nose. “Terrible, too. I suppose I’ll have to stick with Kippy.”

She threaded an arm through his. “We need to stick together. Everyone else here is so young and so inexperienced. I hate teenagers, don’t you?” Said with all the bloated confidence of one just a year out of her teens.

Kippy’s worries about a repeat of the Daisy situation came to nothing. Lillian knew he was gay, she announced grandly. She had a sense for these things. As someone only just coming to terms with life beyond the closet, her revelation made him uncomfortable.

He remembered the teasing he’d put up with while he was doing his college course some years ago. Davy, Ewan and those other apprentices, the ones skilled in wrinkling out differences in their peers, zoning in on anything they suspected wasn’t just so. Had he not hidden it as well as he thought?

Kippy hadn’t actually known what he was hiding for a long time. Instinct had warned him to keep quiet about how different he felt from everyone around him anyway, though. He hid behind Daisy for some months until…The Thing happened. And then his life changed, mostly for the better but the start of his new life had been unbelievably hard and painful.

Lillian was like no-one else he’d ever met. She insisted that in the 90s, it was de riguer for al la mode women such as herself to have a GBF. When he looked mystified, she sighed. “A gay best friend, precious.”

She cocked her head to one side. “You’re from the sticks too. I don’t suppose you had much opportunity to explore your sexuality.”

Honestly, sometimes it was a bit like having a conversation about sex with your mum. He squirmed.

“Auntie Lillian can help!”

She was unbelievably nosey too. She asked questions all the time, almost as if she was researching him. So, tell me about Kirkcudbright? What about your mum and dad? When did you realise you were gay? Have you ever kissed a man?

When he finally admitted that no, he’d never so much as given a guy a hug, she clapped her hands together.

“That’s awful. First thing, then. I must introduce you to some friends of mine.”

Hence, the party.

These being Lillian’s friends, the party was taking place in a flat in the west end, just off the Great Western Road. These flats were so posh, they had two floors.

Lillian had insisted on picking out his outfit for him. Kippy had been going through a phase of velvet blazers, but she turned up her nose on them. “Too obvious!” She held up a plain white tee shirt and his old, worn Levi’s.

“Be the man in the laundrette,” she said, referring to the old advert where Nick Kamen stripped off, puts his jeans in a washing machine and sat in his boxers waiting for them to dry.

As a fourteen-year-old, Kippy had watched the advert a lot. Even now, if Marvin Gaye’s Heard it Through the Grapevine came on the radio, he felt his body quiver in excitement.

The outfit seemed to have done the trick. The party-goers were sixty-forty men to women. Lillian and Kippy were fashionably late arriving, and the attention that greeted them was flattering.

The party’s host made his way towards them, his eyes fixed on Kippy.

“Lillian! You beautiful thing, you. Who’s this?”

Danny wasn’t his ‘type’ anyway. Until very recently, Kippy couldn’t have told you what his type was. A picture swam before his eyes, a half-naked man wearing turned down overalls and a lazy grin. He blinked several times, hoping he wouldn’t cry.

Lillian leant forward and whispered something to Danny.

“I’ll get you both a drink,” Danny said. “And then mingle, do! We’re all good friends of Dorothy here.”

He winked, the eyes then flashing Kippy a lustful look.

“Are you okay, Alan?” Lillian asked. She was the only person under thirty who ever called him that, but he thought he maybe liked it. She said, ‘Alan’, when she was being serious, or asking difficult questions.

“Aye,” he nodded slowly. He’d be better once he had a drink in him. “Who’s Dorothy?”

 

©Emma Baird 2017

Writing Residencies: Alone With The Voices in My Head by Jackie Copleton

Ever wondered what a writers’ retreat is like? Me too…

Author Jackie Copleton (A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding, long-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2016, a BBC Radio 2 book club pick and a Richard and Judy Book Club choice last year) kindly obliged me with this explanation…

Alone with the Voices in My Head

By Jackie Copleton

I’m just back from a two-week writing residency in rural Ireland in January, probably one not best suited to those who like the comfort of a street lamp or a café that hasn’t closed for winter. But I loved my stay at the Heinrich Böll Cottage – including all the solitary hours and one offer to marry me off to a neighbour who sold turf.

The ‘Secret’ of Writing Retreats

Jackie Copleton

The desk in the room where the Nobel prize winner Henrich Boll used to work – a bit intimidating at first!

The cottage had a fire but no internet or television and only one radio channel. By day three I already knew which presenter to avoid. Nightfall came at 5pm and unless I wanted to put on a luminescent safety jacket and walk ten-minutes in the dark to the nearest pub for human company, that radio was the only contact with the outside world. It was lonely but I wrote shedloads. I had little to do by way of an alternative. And therein may lie the ‘secret’ of a writing retreat.

The temptation to get the whip out and only write from dawn to dusk is understandable if you’ve forked out money on a tight budget for a self-funded stay and that voice in your head keeps asking, ‘Can you afford this? Is this whimsical self-indulgence? Why can’t you just write at home?’

However, a writing residency isn’t just about the words, it’s about space and time. The best lines, the plot breakthroughs, the aha moments of observations or dialogue often come when you’ve fallen in a bog or have run into an abandoned house to avoid the hail or you’re having a stand-off in the middle of the road with an annoyed looking tiny horse.

Flowing Words

wr-viewsDespite setting myself rough word targets a day, I also managed to get outside to walk, cycle and drive over Achill Island in County Mayo. I saw megalithic tombs, a deserted village, treacherous cliffs, rainbows and stars. And I suspect these spots of beauty, rather than chaining myself to a desk, were what helped me get the words out in a flow rather than a dribble.

I have no idea if what I’ve written is any good, but in a fit of enthusiasm I went from that funded solo retreat to a subsidised self-funded one with other artists at beautiful Cove Park in Argyll thinking I’ll push on and try to finish a first draft – but I’ve hit a tiny wall. I’m still writing but not in the flurry I experienced in Ireland.

As I type these words a couple wearing matching slippers are curled up on the sofa opposite me in front of a wood-burning stove at the main centre. They look the picture of domestic compatibility while my book and I appear to have had a small domestic. Our slippers are not matching but we are still talking to one another.

Noisy Distractions

That’s the thing: you can find the perfect location, a great set-up (solo or surrounded by inspiring other writers), have an action plan and the money saved but if you’re not feeling it, you might as well be at home doing the ironing or getting your tax returns completed, with Facebook, Netflix and Radio Four all providing a glorious noisy thrilling distraction until the words bubble to the surface.

However, if you get the opportunity, go for it. But remember to leave your chair at regular intervals – you’re collecting experiences not just writing about them.

dictionaryJackie’s book is available in all good book shops and from Amazon and other e-book outlets. You can keep up to date with her news on her website, jackiecopleton.com

(Top pic shows the paperback cover, while the bottom picture is the hardback.)

 

The Joys of Internet Research

nailsHow did writers manage years ago – research-wise?

I’m a big believer in the powers of the search engine. Ask a question – any question – and someone’s asked it before you. Here’s a case in point. Yesterday, I wanted to describe someone going into a beauty salon. Those of you who do make use of salon services, particularly nail bars, will know there’s a certain very strong, chemical smell associated with them. What is it?

I began to type the words, “what does a nail salon” in. By the time I’d typed “sm”, auto fill had kicked in, and the suggestion “What does a nail salon smell like” appeared.

Dead Cats

The first site I found was on answers yahoo – and funnily enough, was from someone writing about nail salons and wanting to know what that smell is. The answers weren’t terribly helpful. Someone had suggested dead cats, but one or two sites later and I had my answer.

Ethyl acetate.

That’s just one example. For the book I’ve just finished (first draft only), I needed to know if exploding cars happen often, what takes place at a memory clinic, how Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, what happens during a medical termination, when Glasgow Caledonian became a university, if Botox is a brand name or a generic name for face-freezing injections, and the lyrics to a number of songs,* all of which was revelaed with some judicious searching.

Alternative Words

Then there’s the joy of the online thesaurus. You discover you’ve just used the same word three times in the last two paragraph and off you head to the thesaurus to find an alternative.

I have no idea how writers managed before the internet. Did they save up all their queries and then go to the library? Did they have to phone people up? Would the novelist writing about a nail salon 25 years ago have phoned up a salon and asked the question? As a result of the difficulties of research, did writers just write about things they knew a lot about?

Thanks heavens for the internet, hmm?

 

*Those lyrics might need to come out. I’m trying to work out if I would need to pay a fee for them, if I misquote them slightly, or have characters speak the lyrics to each other. There’s more information about using lyrics in your writing here.

The Origins

This week’s Friday flash fiction was inspired by my inbox… tediously full of sales emails this morning.

The Origins

Checking the door was firmly closed, Ardell’s Head of Marketing opened her desk drawer.

She poured herself a hefty slug of bourbon. It had been a stressful few months. Sales at Ardells had suffered and its management team twitched nervously.

“What can we do?” they railed. They lowered prices, they extended opening hours and they employed the pushiest salespeople, incentivising them with impossible targets.

Nothing had worked – and now it was Thanksgiving. She hadn’t even made it home to her family.

Oh well, she might as well put on a sale tomorrow. Call it something.

Black Friday maybe?

 

Friday Flash Fiction – TFI Friday

friday“TFIF this week for sure…”

“What happened then, to make Friday so welcome this week?”

“Oh, you know… clients. Demanding ones. Forgetful ones. I had to re-issue three invoices this week.”

“Last Friday wasn’t a great day.”

“Good point. There are a lot of people who won’t recall Fridays with favour for a while.”

“We should re-claim Fridays of course. Show them we are not afraid.”

“Too right! Fridays are when we kick back aren’t they? We go out and we celebrate with our friends and families. We drink and we eat and we laugh.”

Je suis en terrasse.

 

Pic thanks to Slapix.