Collecting the NO’s

So the real catalyst behind this adventure in blogging was a “creating writing” course I attended in Greece back in September, trying to find my “writers voice.” I know it sounds a bit flaky I figured it would be a good way to determine once and for all whether I had any abilities when putting a series of words together, and whether I could in theory develop skills that might carry those words further.  Also I love Greece, and wanted to spend some cash there this year.

The wonderful teacher Crysse Morrison encouraged us to delve deep into the recesses of our minds and push our writing to new boundaries, which was particularly taxing for me, having never pushed my writing even close to a boundary, or even have any idea where the boundary was. Each day, after some learning we were given 20 minutes to write something based on the style we had covered. Of course I would always spend a large portion of those allotted minutes staring into space, before embarking on a panicked few minutes of scribbling to meet the deadline.

At the end of the course, Crysse said some of the stuff I had produced was alright,  and that perhaps I should send something off to a writing competition. Her theory being, the more criticism , the more knock-backs and the more negativity and constructive comments  you get, the better prepared and informed you are to deal with it later, when it really matters, say for example when you are pimping a book (that you have put your heart and soul into) to potential publishers.

So I did, I nervously submitted a piece I had written during the course to a competition for short stories of 500 hundred words. I got knocked back, got some feedback and didn’t make even the long list. But I had collected my first NO, the first of many. I agree with Crysse, and intend to build up my resistance to and acceptance of negativity, feedback and constructive criticism, and through collecting these NO’s improving my writing.

This brings me very nervously to sharing the piece I submitted, my first NO.

Please be aware I share this with you with great apprehension, and bear in mind that not only was written in about 15 minute by someone who had not written fiction ever before, but it is also written about something that I have absolutely no experience of. (This is a fine example of the writer’s disclaimer.)

Happy Birthday

“Happy Birthday” She prints in her neatest handwriting, the kind reserved solely for Christmases and birthdays and the first page of a new journal. “Happy Birthday My Darling”, subconsciously capitalizing each word. She pauses, unsure what more to write, wondering how to add to the card without confusing the page. The pre-printed italic “…hope your 8th Birthday goes with a bang!” although matching perfectly with the glittery illustration of fireworks on the front of the card, does  not touch upon  or come close to the words that she wants to write, the words that she needs to say.

She can feel the tears begin their long journey from deep within her, this familiar sensation an indication of time running out, as if tiny tubes were connecting her heart to her eyes and they were slowly filling, the water level creeping, inching upwards through her body towards her face. Determined to finish before her vision blurs, she carefully adds “Happy Birthday My Darling, I miss you so much” but cannot write any more as the lengthy build-up is completed, her eyes finally succumbing and overflowing, the warm liquid slipping soundlessly down her cheeks.

Pushing the card away, she allows herself a minute of composure, to swallow, to pinch the top of her nose, to pull her sleeve below her wrist and over her thumb to wipe her eyes. Shuffling upright, inhaling, and sliding the card back towards her she continues. “Happy Birthday My Darling, I miss you so much. All my love, Mum.” She completes the message with a tiny cross, this strange representation of a kiss, those two immensely short yet incredibly powerful strokes that convey so much. With a heavy salty tongue she moistens the envelope, pressing it tightly closed, sealing her love within. Printing the name on the front with care, although a little quicker now as time is running out, delicately touching those letters so familiar, and so perfectly framed in the centre of the beautifully white square.

Now the tears recommence their journey, this time she knows she will not be able to stem their flow. Determined to finish her routine before she can do no more; she takes the lid from the shoebox. Whilst automatically straightening the edges of the other seven identical undelivered and unopened birthday cards she places the card on top of the pile, each card with the same name meticulously penned in the centre of those beautifully white squares. She tidies the unopened Christmas cards and then neatens the undelivered letters, and gently replaces the lid. Moving carefully so as not to disturb the contents she returns the box up onto the shelf, sliding it behind the spare blankets, out of sight, hidden. Closing the wardrobe door she catches a brief reflection of herself, of her glistening face in between the ties hanging in front of the mirror, and finally releases the breath she realises has been holding for so long, the silent cramping agony striking as her legs collapse her to the carpet.

And there it is, my first NO.

The lady who runs the competition, who very kindly, for a fee, sent me some feedback:

  • You definitely have talent, so do keep writing.
  • This is a good character sketch but it leaves too many unanswered questions needing answers.  Because we don’t know enough about the background to the loss of her child, we are left feeling unsatisfied.
  •                 What happened to the child?
  •                 Why are the cards hidden?
  •                 Is the child alive or dead?
  •                 Who is she hiding the cards from?
  • In other words, we need a little more in the storyline to get a sense of satisfaction from the ending.

She is right, this could definitely be improved, she is a professional after all, it is her job to provide feedback and be right.

I emailed back:

“Christ lady I only had 500 words, how can I fit all that in? Do you know what, I wanted it to be unresolved, I wanted people to read it and come to different conclusions, who am I to dictate exactly what has happened, and why it is happening. I agree in different circumstances sometimes the audience needs answers, but in this I think it works. I like the fact that it is unresolved, it is sad, and I don’t have the answers. I want people to read it in different ways, and maybe see it with a different perspective, maybe provide their own answers.”

No I didn’t, I said:

“Dear lady, that does this for a living, thanks for your feedback, it has helped a lot.”

So I’ve got a long way to go, (clearly) I have some small amount talent and need to work on improving that and improving my writing. And that is why I am making the time to sit every day and write for at least 10 minutes, some of which I  publish  on here. I suppose that in itself is a way of attempting to collect some more NO’s, by laying myself out onto the moving belt of this  X-Ray machine of the world wide web I am opening myself up for criticism, and negativity. But that is a good thing (I keep persuading myself) because every NO collected is a step closer to collecting a YES.


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