The Na-wrimo Pledge

P1020929 - CopieYou may have noticed that I blog more irregularly these days than before. I have never been very regular anyway, but I have let many deadlines and routines go when it comes to writing and blogging. I often blame the poor internet connection in our new home (and we are bound with a 1 year contract, so we’ll be able to switch provider only next summer!), but I know it’s not really the truth. Many books are waiting on the sidelines, many post drafts are waiting to be finished and published. And they will be, one day, hopefully soon!

I don’t want to feel guilty and apologize whenever I show up here. I just want to make clear that I haven’t moved on or moved away from blogging. It’s not as if I had taken a new sport or a new hobby! I just need some time to recover my routine and find a new pace to write.

I have worked on a long story / novella on the side, long-hand. Yes, with a pen and a notebook! How revolutionary… This is a story I started years ago and never finished, but I am now clearer than I ever been where I want to lead it. I also switch from English to French and back, which is not great. I’m not sure it will be any good when finished, but gosh… it will feel good to complete it anyway. Remember Anne Lamott’s shitty first draft, right? More than ten years ago I joined the Nanowrimo and I remember what it feels like to write so many words every single day for 30 days straight. I had no kids then… and I made it to the finish line of 50,000 words.

I’m not that ambitious for this year, but I still feel strongly about writing every single day. Stories, memoirs, diary, gratitude lists. You will not see it here online every day, but I’m in the rear kitchen, cooking up something. It simmers for hours on end. And every day, a few more words add up to the richness of the gravy. If everything goes well, I should have a shitty first draft by the end of the month.

Writing ‘017: August Status + Update

To be fair, I’m not sure where I’m going with these monthly recaps. I feel that I’m writing the same every single month. August was not great for fiction writing but I kept a regular regimen of diary and book posts writing.

I didn’t expect much. August is always a break in my routine because that’s the month when many (most?) French people take their annual leave, and since the kids are not at school the daily rhythm is irregular even when I’m working. And this year with the new house it was even more disrupted.

I can’t see myself *not* writing, but my fiction projects have been on hold for a while. Is it only due to the house move or is it a new season? I have had other periods in my life where I didn’t write stories at all. What’s for sure is that the coming weeks and months will be busy with establishing a new routine in our new town, with  improving our new home, with trying to make new contacts (new friends?), and I’m not sure what’s left for story writing.

I have found great comfort in the last few months in journaling (I even tried an idea that I heard on the Sorta awesome podcast: the 5 minutes diary, where you write with a timer, a mix between free write and writing with a constraint). And of course, the blog is here to stay. I have no less than 9 drafts (other than these posts) that are lingering, and I do want to share my reading experiences!

In the past, I have always experienced that the more I was looking for story ideas, the more they eluded me. On the contrary, when my mind was free (carefree?) and daydreaming aimlessly, the weirdest ideas were popping up like mushrooms after the rain. That’s the reason why I’ll keep my writing recaps private until further notice.

Writing ‘017: July Status

TerrariumLet’s keep it brief, shall I? As expected, July wasn’t the most startling period to write. I tried to write every day, but I stopped for 5 days because… well, boxes, disruption of routine, last-minute repairs and shopping, exhaustion. I have not found my new routine yet, and with the summer August break, I can’t see that happening before September. I have been writing my diary, but my creativity is low. I don’t have the energy to submit again, especially after visiting some chain bookstores where row after row of books seem rather interchangeable.

Meh, don’t worry about me, a change of scenery will help freshen things up, and I might get new ideas! We are off tomorrow for two weeks. I am bringing my Kindle with me, fully stocked with exciting titles. We will be discovering Bavaria and resting from the recent events on the banks of the Danau, the Isar and the Inn rivers.

Writing ‘017: June Edition

P1020554Can you believe that the first half of the year is already gone? Well, I can’t, unless I consider all the boxes clogging our living room, for our coming move to a new house that we hadn’t started looking for at the beginning of this year.

On the writing front, as you can imagine, there’s nothing glorious to report. I have tried to maintain a regimen of writing something (a blog post or my diary – 45 words minimum) every day; and I mostly managed it thanks to my commute and the WordPress app on my phone. But I can’t say that I have written a word of fiction. I wish I could try escapist fiction, but it’s very difficult for me to be creative right now. As a minimalist exercise, I have taken to the “6 words diary”. I’ve never tried poetry but trying to find the most memorable moment of the day with a strict literary constraint is fun (and saves me from spiraling on and on about to-do lists).

On the reading front, I think the first semester has been quite interesting with a good number of awesome books. These are my favorites for the first part of the year:

I had set a few goals for this year: read more short stories, read more from our bookshelves (now in boxes!) and so read less from Netgalley, and read from a list of 10 pre-selected books I’ve owned for years and never came round to start. You could think 10 books would be nothing, but I am so, so bad at sticking to book lists! I have indeed read more short stories, and I want to read even more of them. I have been better at managing Netgalley this year, because I’m less impulsive with my choices. From my 10 pre-selected list, I have read 4 1/2 titles (and 2 of them are in the above list of favorites), which could be taken as a positive if you didn’t know that I started with the easier ones and left the heftier and more difficult ones aside. I have started Bulgakov’s White Guard and I can’t say I “get it”… yet?

In June I was lucky enough to get to see (nearly) all my friends from last year’s writing retreat. We had a fantastic dinner in Paris near Notre Dame and the bookshop Shakespeare & Co. It was so refreshing to get out of my to-do list and into a more creative and literary discussion!

Writing ‘017: May Status

coucousI can’t believe how quickly May disappeared! On the writing front I can’t say I’ve made much progress, although I only missed 3 days of writing in the month.

I have been busy writing posts (a lot of drafts in the drawers, you guys, but I will finish them soon, I promise!) and writing silly stories. I have 3 unfinished stories where I just kind of rambled on quirky situations, one of them very nearly finished but I can’t seem to find a satisfactory ending.

I suspect it’s because they aren’t very good. I aimed at entertaining myself from the current stressful situations (mortgage! real-estate closing! moving! politics! climate! world doom!), but I wasn’t entirely successful, so I don’t even want to imagine bothering a reader with my silly stories. I read widely this month and many stories (and movies) reminded me to try new things and be more daring. I love being baffled and disturbed by a story. I don’t think I have the peace of mind to do it right now in my own writing. I’m so busy with life stuff that my imagination has very little room for the time being. But it’s only a season, and during fall things should return progressively to a new normal.

On the submitting front, I sent my story to 2 more publishers this month, but one of them apparently disappeared. That is, my manuscript envelope came back with “address unknown”. How weird is that? (Yes, before you ask, in France most publishing companies want you to send your story printed on paper, they don’t want e-mails… we’re a very traditional country… ) Do you think they went bankrupt or moved away? Their website and Facebook is still at the address I used. At least, I didn’t get a rejection letter…

Writing ’17: April Status & a Literary Visit

Mmh, I hesitated to write a quick post or not. The jury is still out there (on May 12!!), because I guess it might get boring for you guys.

For me, the monthly roundup is clearly an effective incentive : it is no coincidence that I finally found the time to finish my last corrections and to send my novella on April 28, when the end of the month was looming! I didn’t have the feeling at the time, but objectively I have found a kind of rhythm and I only missed 3 days in April. I really enjoyed writing in cafés again and I look forward to my next session!

20170509_164424I would hate to be boring, so I will also entertain you with my recent visit to Balzac’s home. Because every French pupil has to read at least one or two of his novels before finishing high-school, my experience of Balzac (1799-1850) is tainted by the memory of drawn-out analysis in class or graded papers, which is a terrible fate for any writer. The few times I tried Balzac in my adult life, it was a far more enjoyable experience and I should definitely try again (one of his shorter novels).

His lovely small house is located in a wealthy, hilly neighborhood in Western Paris, which used to be a separate village back when Balzac was living there. He thought it was the countryside, and indeed it is still very peaceful! His house is built on hillside, with one entrance accessible through a flight of stairs, and another entrance three storeys below that opens into a narrow lane. There’s a garden and many trees.

20170509_164058The house is quite cute, although there are not much to see (a desk and chair and a teapot). The atmosphere is serene (now), and I sat in the garden in the sun to read a short story sent by Danielle, although I understand that Balzac often ran away from his debtors through one gate when they showed up at the other gate.

20170509_162559There are exhibitions in the rooms, presenting all the characters of Balzac’s enormous series of books, that he envisioned as a presentation of all possible aspects of human society. The pictures of his characters filled an entire room, and another one is devoted to Balzac’s obsession with editing and revising his work.

After visiting Dickens’ House in London in February, is this a new thing of mine? Paradoxically, as we are preparing our move to the suburbs, the memory plaques that celebrate Paris’ homes of famous artists are becoming more interesting to me.

The Second Time

louvre1There was this feeling of déjà vu; but the fact that I knew what to do made it even better.

I checked out of work early and went to a special, trendy place, this time a co-working café where you pay by the hour and can snack, drink and work.

It was rather crowded and noisier than I thought but I was very motivated. I had about two hours to do the job. I had listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast on the train, and she said something about welcoming rejection letters.

Within two hours, all the last corrections to my novella were entered, spelling and grammar checked (again!), and I had checked the chapters for size and consistency. I got myself a mint tea and a butter cookie. Next to me was a guy who was working on a website, on my left there was a woman who had loads of pens and markers and was doodling logos on a big notebook.

Did I feel like I belong? Not really. These places always seem like clichés of themselves, like symbols of what they want to be (cool! young! creative!), but I don’t care and I do enjoy leaving my routine behind.

Sometimes a tourist came in and asked for a coffee, the barman tirelessly explained how it worked, and most tourists just bought a takeaway hot drink (it’s unseasonably cold here!). I left the café a bit elated, and went to a copy shop.

A stylish girl stood at the desk with the mandatory bright red lipstick. The copy shop was close to chic boutiques and bank headquarters, Opera and rue Saint Honoré. The girl looked at me quizzically after she opened my old, battered USB key and gave me a quote of more than 50 euros for two copies of my novella. It was ridiculous, and I couldn’t help but think that she was judging me. I promptly left the shop and found the old place close to home who had made me copies back in November for a very flat rate.

Maybe I have not accumulated enough rejections yet, but sending my story out gave me a boost of good mood and hope. I had decided that I would send it out before May 1st, and I have met the deadline, even if just barely.

Writing ’17: March Status

P1020366My original plan for March was to progress in the French version of a story I’d written in English originally and to resubmit my novella in March immediately.

I did neither, but I don’t feel bad. Quite the contrary.

I have looked at my novella with fresh eyes and found that if I wanted to submit it as a very short novel (there is a market for that in France, both in literary fiction and in YA / middle-grade fiction), it should be structured in chapters, and it should be a bit longer.

So I am working again on my novella, structuring it and fattening it up. I read novellas recently, and every single time I felt a bit frustrated and wished there had been more, so I definitely am applying this conclusion to my own text now.

P1020358Otherwise, my writing routine had some highs and lows this month. I have been missing 5 days in the month, which is more than usual, because the upcoming move (with its legal, financial and practical parts) is taking up most of my energy.

I have learnt that a good friend of mine has won a short story competition and will be published. How thrilling! There are just a few literary journals that publish short stories in France, but short story competitions do work. I didn’t feel inspired to write on a given subject up to now but I should definitely look more into it. I also received a nice email from an author I had written about here on the blog, and it felt quite nice that this person had taken the time to write personally.

Writing ’17: February Status

20170128_101305

February wasn’t a bad month when it came to writing. I managed to write every single day but for 3 days, considering I was away with the kids for almost a week (which is typically not conducive of writing). I didn’t focus on any single project and felt a bit scatterbrained: a few words on a story here, a few diary entries there, one or two unfinished blog posts. I finished quite a few books that I’d read for the last 2 months, so my drawer is full of book blog drafts (that you will get to read soon enough!).

On the fiction side, I have received a rejection for my novella. I had sent it to a small French press specialized in novellas back in December. The market for short stories in France is quite limited (there are no literary journals publishing fiction), but there is a market for short novels. This small press was looking for novellas exactly the size of mine, so I had to try!

At the same time, browsing through their back list gave me an inkling that their published novellas were probably too high-brow / experimental / literary compared to my noir-ish / realist story. Which was confirmed to me last weekend.

The rejection e-mail was detailed enough to let me know that the person has read my story (in full or not, I can’t tell). It still stings, because it criticizes the lack of formal creativity and such. It’s a bit hard to hear said so bluntly, especially as genre fiction is not meant to be formally creative (I don’t mean to say that genre fiction is badly written, but genre fiction means that there are some conventions, by definition). I appreciated that the person took the time to tell me exactly why though.

If it’s not a good fit, at least it has encouraged me to look elsewhere and find another small press that would be interested in genre fiction and short novels. I have found a few names where I could send my manuscript in March.

Writing ’17: January Status

20170113_164830If you’ve read my post a few days ago, you’ll have guessed that I don’t have wondrous news to share about my January writing. I have written tons of … emails to the various professionals involved in selling and buying homes; it requires some writing skills indeed, but very little creative imagination.

I still want to stand by my resolution to write every day, because I know that if I lose the habit, it will be a hassle and a struggle to return to it. So I wrote everyday (but 4 days), mostly blog posts drafts, and a few more paragraphs on ongoing stories. I don’t think it’s any good, but it’s there, a little deposit into the writing bank, a few words here and there, and I’ll revisit them one day (perhaps).

Last weekend I got to the point where I wrote down all the books I am currently reading, because I feel that I’m doing no progress on the reading front as well. A bad case of startitis that began in December and got out of control in January. Here’s the status as of last Sunday (don’t panic! please! this is not contagious!)

  • Réparer les vivants by Maylis de Kerangal – p.54/299
  • The Woman Next Door by Cass Green – 38%
  • Lotus by Lijia Zhang – 56%
  • The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding – p.122/231
  • Gut: Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders p.108/335
  • Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic + the Domestic by Esther Perel – p.152/220
  • The Summer Book by Tove Jansson – 30%

Isn’t it a sad picture? I don’t quite want to abandon any of them, but I have to make hard choices. Plus, I learnt in this stressful season that reading non-fiction before bed is a definite no-no. It leads to hour-long ruminations about to-do-lists and finances and …

Stop. Time for some fun read! What do you suggest?