I suppose I should admit that 2012 wasn't the most productive of years for me, either in terms of new material or in terms of getting material published or being offered gig slots (one tends to feed the other, after all). It's been a strange and challenging year where it's possible I neglected the writing and put it to one side purely because there were other worries and concerns in my life, which I don't need to highlight here.
However, so much of this talk is partly me making excuses for myself. What happened to my writing above all else in 2012 is that I began to actually fear new material. I spent a disproportionate (though not totally worthless) amount of time re-drafting and re-working existing poetry and short stories in order to avoid the elephant in the room - fresh stuff. New ideas. The idea of actually picking up a pen and scribbling something in my notebook became threatening, not only because I was beginning to find standing starts impossible, but also because I had an irrational fear of my own bad poetry. Had somebody asked me if I'd like to deal with a small room with a wasp in it (my other phobia) or create a poem, there might have been days where I'd have opted for the bloody wasp.
This probably sounds confusing and nonsensical, so let me (try to) explain. Almost all my first drafts are at the very least mediocre, and usually a lot worse than that. Poetry for me isn't something that spews its way on to the page and seems strong first time, it's something that requires chiselling, tweaking and sanding down. My method isn't original and is recommended by numerous writing workshops, but it usually works along these lines - I will draft something, then hide it in my notebook not to be viewed again for at least three months, at which point I'll have a much clearer idea about what I've got to play with. However, in 2012 I somehow forgot the sheer shocks you sometimes get when you look back again - that poem I was convinced would charm everyone into submission doesn't even seem any good to me anymore, never mind a wider audience. In places, it's even dreadful. In short, I had begun to believe the myth that all poetry should seem great or reveal its full promise after its first draft, when what all poetry (or at least most poetry) really needs is focus - the hard yards at the start when an idea first pops into your head, and the slog at the end when it has to be prodded, tested, smoothed over and possibly entirely redrafted in places. Checking back on old notebooks confirmed this, as I observed substandard poetry on a tatty page being bulked out by different coloured arrows spidering all over the place, red lines, and new sentences and words squeezed in the space available. I realised that some of my best material had been given the most attention, which sounds rather obvious, but it's easy to forget. Average poetry, like average songs and average sketches, can be made to be good.
So I've made a New Year's Resolution this year to promise myself to write at least one fresh piece of material a week. It's highly unlikely you'll ever get to see them on this blog in their raw form, since this isn't any kind of public sharing exercise, so you'll have to trust me that it's something I will do. But if all goes well, and I don't fear my own failings and decide to work on them rather than stare at them in horror, the dividends should be entirely clear in time. I'm completely determined not to have another half-hearted year in 2013, and yes, stuff has already been written.
I'm also really happy to be able to tell you that I've had a short story accepted for publication by "The Alarmist" magazine, which should hit the shops at the beginning of February. The website for "The Alarmist" is here, and should hopefully show that they're a very valuable and rare thing in this day and age - that is, a genuinely alternative new literary journal with great artistic design (not the bog-standard columnised Times New Roman on a plain white page across 100 sides format) and a strong distribution. Like most journals of their ilk, though, they operate on a shoestring and are not presently at the stage where they can afford to pay their writers - but in a move I hope a lot of other editors will consider emulating, they've opted to begin a Kickstarter campaign to ensure that some (or even all) of them get paid. Please do take a quick look at the details here and have a think about throwing in a few pounds if you feel that way inclined. I'll update this blog with more details about the story and the magazine soon.
This will be the first short story of mine to be commercially issued, and I'm really excited about this. On Friday night, a friend of mine laughed when I told him how much trouble I'd had getting my short stories published, and told me that it's easier to get novels approved at the moment, and I probably would have been better off spending the time writing one of those instead. He's got a point, but hey ho - I can't control the way these ideas materialise.
In other good news, the audience for my other (more widely publicised) music blog "Left and to the Back" remained as strong in 2012 as it had been throughout 2011 and 2010, partly due to publicity in some very unlikely places. So it's not all idleness and phobias, ladies and gentlemen.