Monthly Archives: September 2011

Awards versus Rewards

Writing is a strange old profession, because it is both very personal and (hopefully) very public. A lot of writers, whether through choice, laziness or misfortune, write for fun and never reveal their work to anyone, or only to a few family and friends who almost certainly feel duty-bound to be encouraging and positive. A few go a couple of steps further and meet with the opposite effect, receiving endless (infinitely useful but occasionally disheartening) suggestions of change from writing buddies and editors, and piles of rejections from agents and publishers. Only a very limited elite take the process full circle and get positive feedback from disinterested strangers, in the form of publication, massive sales figures and perhaps even royalties.

Last night, I attended the presentation evening at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. It was a small gathering to celebrate the conclusion of their Drabble Contest, in which contestants were asked to write a 100 word story (see my earlier post if you’d like to read one of my entries). The event was a lot of fun, winners were awarded with a small prize, runners up got a mention and a selection of other stories were selected to join these entries in a book which was then available to buy.

As a runner up, there was no Award for me, and no tangible Reward either, but I nevertheless received the Rewards that most writers crave – recognition, understanding, praise – and from someone who has no possible motive to lie or exaggerate. All the books tell you: “Write for yourself!” and there are lots of good reasons behind that which I’ll save for another post. But secretly, we all hope we’re writing for our readers too, so it’s nice when they give us a wave – let us know they are there and that they appreciate something about what we’ve got to say.

One day, hopefully soon, I hope to push myself into an Award – public publication, or a win – but for now I appreciate these rewards when they come. On which note, as ever, comments are very welcome. Feedback – good or bad – is what feeds my writing.

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Thanks for the Inspiration #1

As promised, here’s the little piece I wrote based on Dad’s inspiration, which forms the first line. If you’d like to leave your own suggestion, head over to the post entitled “Inspiration” from 18th September and leave a comment. I’ll see what I can do.

This one’s a bit of fun, but I’m actually pretty proud of it. Without meaning to big myself up, it reminds me a bit of Alan Bennet’s “Talking Heads” monologues. That’s something to aspire to anyway. In the meantime, I offer it up to you and welcome your comments and critiques, good and bad. To Canadian readers, I apologise for the very British nature of the story!


Some elected people in government wear chains of office, the rest of them should probably be taken out of office and put in chains. I went to see my local MP this afternoon. I thought it was time I spoke to him again, as it had been at least a week since my last letter, so I arrived at his surgery early doors and found myself third in the queue.

The two people in front of me were timewasters. There was one lady – I say lady, the three children she had with her all had different skin tones, so lady’s a bit of a stretch – there was one woman, who clutched a fat handbag on her knee and told the assistant she was here about her benefits. If you’d kept your legs closed, dear, and you might not have had to worry about benefits so much. I didn’t say it. I thought she might clout me with that handbag, and the oldest brat was a boy. He looked like he’d bite me, and I didn’t want to catch anything. The other person was clearly a crank. He had a briefcase with initials stamped on the top and he kept picking at something invisible on his jacket. I sat on the far side of the room in case he tried to strike up a conversation.

When it was finally my turn, the assistant led me down the corridor and into his office. No name on the door – I suppose it saves the bother of changing it when he gets voted out. The whole place is a cheap little office like you’d expect in a one-man doctor’s practice. Not that you get those anymore. Great big health centres where you never see the same chap twice, that’s the way these days.

He shook my hand and waved me into a chair.

“What can I do you for?” Big smile. Painted on his face. He’d obviously taken a bit of a pounding from the multi-racial benefits brood and the crackpot already. At least I was here about something important.

“I have written to you several times about lagopus lagopus scotica.” He raised an eyebrow and I realised just how far back I’d have to start. He had entirely forgotten our previous meeting in August, and all my letters. “The Red Grouse.”

“Are they endangered?” He clearly hadn’t even read them, or the articles I enclosed.


“Then what’s the problem?”

“They are the great British bird. The only bird entirely native to the British Isles. They were introduced into Belgium, but they died out. That’s how British they are. This bird is the very essence of Britain.”

“Insular and xenophobic?” He laughed at his own joke, then abruptly stopped and straightened his tie.

“I have written, asking you to raise it in Parliament.”

“I’m sorry, Mr …” He looked at his computer screen, then shot me a weak grin when it didn’t save him. “I’m sorry, Sir, I’m not certain what you’re asking me to raise.”

“The Red Grouse should be the national bird of Britain. The Yanks have got the Bald Eagle, the Belgians – having failed to foster the Red Grouse – have settled for the Kestrel. Even the damn Frenchies have got their ridiculous Rooster. What have we got?”

“Err… I can’t say I’m…”

“Nothing. Nothing at all. That is why this is so important.”

“Indeed. Did you say you’ve sent me a letter?”


He stood up. “Then I will make it a priority to hunt it out. It must have got stuck in my in-tray somewhere.” He held out his hand, clearly trying to end the interview.

“I hope to hear from you very shortly,” I said. It is important to end any meeting on one’s own terms.

As I walked out past the little waiting area, I passed the next visitor. The leaflets gave her away: some timewaster about the plans to close the library.



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Reading to Write

Every writers’ guide in the world says you can’t write without reading. We should read widely to learn what we like, read the good stuff to learn what works, read the popular stuff to learn what sells and read drivel to learn what does neither. We should not be afraid to mimic (whilst avoiding copying). We should read literary magazines to choose where to send our work, and because it is only fair to read other people’s work if we expect them to read ours. We should read novels and pay close attention to the publishers / agents who took them on, so that in due course we know who best to approach. And of course, we should continue reading for fun, because there aren’t many writers in the world who didn’t love reading first.

And while we’re devouring all these written words, we should ensure that we are not skim-reading but are closely studying the text for every literary device, every style choice and a million other things that I haven’t got space to list here.

All this while we are living on the meagre profits of not being able to sell our work; or trying to fit in writing as a second or third job whilst working to put a roof over our heads and food on our tables.

I don’t disagree with the advice, I am just aware of the difficulties it creates. If I subscribed to every literary magazine I was thinking about submitting to, I’d be broke. So, I am beginning to look at alternatives, like sharing subscriptions with one or two friends. Books (not so much magazines) are available through lending libraries and second-hand shops.  And there is always Christmas – perhaps I will just ask for subscriptions as presents this year.

As for mimicry, I agree that it has its benefits, but there are drawbacks. I recently read over a longish manuscript I had written during a school summer holiday. You could tell from the text when I had been reading Pride and Prejudice and when To Kill A Mockingbird. I think a bit of Douglas Adams might have crept in there too. It was imaginative, in places even good, but consistent it was not!

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“People assume that stand up comedians do everything for material,” I read this morning. Well, people make the same assumption about writers. I was a lawyer: “Oh, you must have so many stories to tell about clients!”, I’m now a waitress: “That must be a mine of characters!”, and I suspect that even if I decided to become a hermit or a serial killer, it would prompt comments about discovering new experiences and storylines.

The truth, of course, is that writers and comics are people who live their lives for the same diverse and inexplicable reasons everyone else does. I could never write about any of my clients or customers specifically – I don’t fancy being struck off for breach of confidentiality or sued for libel – and I do these jobs for other reasons, like earning money and keeping self-esteem.

In reality, I don’t know where inspiration comes from. Sometimes it’s a word or phrase – “He doesn’t know” whizzed around my head so insistently on a train journey a few years ago, that during the 20 minute walk from station to house, I created an entire story based on it. Other times, it’s a truism – “Two things can be observed in human behaviour: the tendency towards order and the counterbalancing risk of chaos” is the first line of a short I scribbled out yesterday, and until I was two paragraphs in, I had no idea it would be about unreliable garbage collections. Occasionally, an emotion or a character might pop into my head and need to be exorcised onto the page, but that’s pretty rare. And sometimes, I get my inspiration the way writers’ guides suggest – I go to or and see what inspires me, or I pick up a newspaper and try to build a story out of what I find there. Or else I find a contest I want to enter, and work within the rules!

Today, dear followers, I’ve got a new idea. If you comment on this post, whether with a phrase, a character or something else that could constitute an inspiration, I’ll do my best to create around it. There are no rules, the floor is yours.


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Riding high

I was tempted to post about my recent procrastinations, but events have overtaken me and before I got down to writing, I received some excellent news.
This year, it has been my challenge to submit at least one piece of writing to a contest or publication every month. For a serious writer, this would be a meagre contribution, but I have never submitted before, and I wanted to aim for something achievable. Besides, the cost of submitting restricts my attempts, and a lot of my “writing” time is dedicated to editing Eric, which is not going to lead to any sort of submission in the near future, but is part of a longer-term goal.
Over the year I’ve had highs and lows – a rejection notice with a “please try us again in the future” being a bit of both – and this week I’ve had a nice good high.
I submitted three 100-word stories to the Laurier Centennial Drabble Contest, back in March. The three stories were on different topics – Leadership, Inspiration and Purpose. I have recently heard that my Leadership story was chosen as a Runner Up and my Inspiration drabble gets an Honorable Mention. Both will feature in a commemorative booklet and I am off to a ceremony to celebrate at the end of the month.

As I’ve signed away first publishing rights to both of them, here’s the one that didn’t make the grade. I hope you enjoy it anyway…


Morning, I am a mother: arguing Ian into his uniform because “Thursday is swimming, Mummy. I don’t like swimming,” and sneaking chocolate into his bag as a reward.

Afternoon, I am a wife: shouting at Daniel for being late, almost making me late for class; throwing their dinner in the oven as I run out.

Evening, I am an independent woman. Three hours of drawing naked models with people I don’t know.

Night, I am… My house is a smoking ruin. The police woman says it was probably a gas leak: they wouldn’t have felt a thing. I am…?


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Welcome, welcome, welcome

Hi there! Thanks for visiting elmowrites, a blog about writing, procrastinating from writing, and trying to persuade other people to pay me for writing … I hope you enjoy your time here.

To get the ball rolling, allow me to introduce a few of the most important characters you’re likely to come across:

1. Me. I’m Elmo, also known as Jen. I used to be a lawyer, but I’m currently exploring the possibilities in writing fiction, and i’m waiting tables in the meantime. I’m English and live in Canada, so you’ll have to get used to my mid-Atlantic use of the English language, I’m afraid.

2. Pepsi and Max. They are my cats and writing buddies.  They, along with the mysterious Mr E (my husband), make up my household.

3. Eric. Like everything I write, the novel I am currently working on is known by the name of its main character, in this case, Eric. Eric is a 50 chapter novel, currently entering 2nd draft form through some fairly heavy editing. I’ve also got a load of short stories and ideas to work on.

4. You. The most important people of all – the readers.

Everything (and everyone) else, we’ll pick up as we go along – welcome to our world.


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