The weekly herding: blessed boredom and the perils of engaging

Gather round, children, while I tell you tales from the internet in the round-up I like to call a ‘regular feature’…

 

The art of boredom

No one asks writers to write, it’s a personal choice driven by some mysterious urge. So why then, faced with a blank page that you’ve chosen to put words on, is it so hard to get on with it? And how do you harness your wandering concentration? Why Boredom Is Good For Your Creativity by Mark McGuinness has a few thoughts on Creativity-with-a-capital-C and its evil twin Resistance.

A quote from Father Ted creator Graham Linehan points out how much harder the writer’s plight has been made by that rascally attention-seeker the internet:

‘I have to use all these programs that cut off the internet, force me to be bored, because being bored is an essential part of writing, and the internet has made it very hard to be bored’ – Graham Linehan

The solution, according to McGuinness, is to remove all distractions, possibly going to a library armed only with a pen and paper, the mental equivalent of sitting on the naughty step. Render yourself so bored that you’re left with no choice but to be productive:

‘Whether it is poetry or prose, I experienced the same familiar pattern: once it’s just me and the blank screen/page, a wave of boredom rises up to meet me. I feel the urge to go somewhere – anywhere – to get away. And I let the wave wash over me. I accept I am bored, that boredom is part of the process – and I trust that if I sit here long enough, it will subside, and reveal a flicker of curiosity. That flicker is like the tiny flame a match sparks in kindling – easily snuffed out, but if you are patient, it will start to grow and burn brightly. Curiosity becomes interest, becomes fascination… and soon I’m lost in my writing, the words are flowing and I wouldn’t be anywhere or doing anything else in the whole world’ – Mark McGuinness

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Remove all distractions, whether it’s internet access or that irresistible pile of ironing

 

In the public interest?

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Do we really need to know how authors see the world?

There was an interesting article in The Paris Review this week about how writers have no choice these days but to be their own brand. This means they have to engage with their audience on social media, revealing a considerable amount about themselves in the process. The internet offers wonderful opportunities for authors to promote their work to a wide audience, but it equally presents a myriad of ways to make spectacular eejits of themselves. They have to be chatty but not desperate, humorous but not insensitive, opinionated but not offensive (and good luck with not offending any of the people any of the time).  The thing is that the perception of the writer’s persona then bleeds into their work, for better or worse. Can you read a book objectively if you know the writer is a racist/misogynist/oversharer of cat memes? And yet shouldn’t a book’s merit speak for itself, regardless of how adorable or obnoxious its creator is? The issue of how much artists should reveal of themselves is an interesting one, I think:

‘Now, however, everyone is expected to cultivate a public face that can serve as background for the rest of their work, whether that’s helming a presidential campaign or serving slices at a pizzeria. The dilemma is trickier for writers only because their work and their online personas deal in the same materials: anecdotes, dialogue, words. (Think of the looming opportunity of the blog-to-book deal, or the writer who asks her followers whether she should turn a tweet into an essay on Medium.) The transference of judgment from the person to the work, or vice versa, seems, in this respect, inevitable’ – Wei Tchou, The Paris Review

 

Short story competition

The Bare Fiction Prize 2016 is now open for short story entries. First prize is £500, second prize is £200 and third prize £100, plus the winning stories will be published in Bare Fiction magazine as well as on the website. There’s a 3,000-word limit, and the entry fee is £8 (£6 for subscribers). There are also flash fiction and poetry categories, but I’m not clear from the website whether these are running concurrently. The closing date is October 31.

 

 

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