Sunday, 28 February 2010

the big March detox

I like cake. Well, according to my reputation, I luuurrve cake. But truthfully, I'm not sure whether it's about cake itself or about catching up with friends for cake and coffee or because I love to bake.

Whatever, the fact remains I eat too much of it. Especially when it's something I don't like the kids to have often. I mean, just last week I went to an event where I brought home leftovers equivalent to approximately half a fruit cake. Not to mention the two kiddy parties I went to, and another three occasions where cake or other sweet treats were provided. On top of that, I baked apple cinnamon muffins this afternoon. Not that I necessarily ate something evil at everything I attended.

I'm at that stage where I don't even like it anymore. The fruit cake I brought home, sure, that was great, and the stuff I bake myself, of course. But I'm getting over the whole cake thing. Maybe because it often tastes mass-produced or like it's been sitting around half a day too long, or because I wouldn't dream of letting the kids eat even half as much, or maybe because I've just been feeling crap for too long.

The cake is going to stop.

Now, I'm not very good at cutting out one thing and being tempted by others, then reasoning to myself that just this or that or whatever will be okay... so I'm going to cut out a whole heap of things for March. I've done it before and it's a guaranteed way of feeling great, and it's healthy. None of this starving rubbish. That is something I could never do. Forunately I never wanted to be a model anyway.

My little detox (probably not technically a detox but that's what I'm going to call it) has no restrictions on how much I can eat, which suits me very well. Because I definitely like to eat. There's just a whole bunch of stuff I won't be eating. And I'm pretty sure that after a month, I won't even be interested in cake (I'm sure too, that will build back up slowly after a while).

So, during March, there will be no:
Tokay or other alcohol. This will be easy.
Dairy produce. This will also be easy as I'm lactose intolerant and don't eat much anyway.
Sugar. You'd think with my love for cake, this would be tough, but it's not really.
Wheat. This is the hard part.

Wheat is hard to cut out completely because it's everywhere, and while there are plenty of substitutes, the other four people living here don't necessarily want a substitute. Not all the time anyway. I won't even be able to use soy sauce in my fried rice!

But really, it's okay. As I said, I've done it before, so I have a long list of alternatives to make sure I don't go crazy, and I figure the trick is to avoid getting so hungry I just want to grab the closest thing. Well, the first time that seemed to be the key, but I haven't really noticed it any of the other (three) times. One of the other things I learned the first time was how many packaged foods, especially cans, contain sugar. For example, for one type of canned vegetable, there might be three or four brands. Two or three probably contain sugar, yet one or maybe two don't. And they're pretty much the same price.

Anyway, I'm all stocked up, although most of the foods I'll be eating are things I generally eat anyway. Porridge or (Carman's) muesli for breakfast, although there is a rye sourdough bread from Alex's Wuppertaler & Rye Bakery that's acceptable, so maybe eggs on toast some mornings. There's plenty of rice and rice/corn pasta, corn thins, plain rice crackers (the sugarless brand) and when I'm out and get stuck, hot chips work. I drink black coffee, so I don't have to miss out on my caffeine fix(es). Dinners will mostly be curries/tagines, (corn/rice) pasta or something that's mostly veggies. Not that that's any different to our usual fare.

Anyway, I wonder if anyone's interested in joining in. You may not want to cut out so many things; maybe just one thing, or change something, or whatever. So far, there's one other person onboard, who's cutting back on all the same things as I am, and maybe another person, who might be turning vegetarian (waiting to hear back).

If you don't want to join in, feel free to have one extra slice of cake, for me.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

one minor breakthrough

Since wondering aloud whether to remarry or find another way around the maiden/married name passport shemozzle back here, I decided the best solution was to revert to my maiden name. Which, in case you're wondering, is the name you know me by: Johnson.

I started by making a list of all the places I'd have to change my name and tried to ignore nagging thoughts of how much effort this was actually going to take, then figured the most sensible place to start would be with Vic Roads and my driver's licence. After all, everyone wants photo ID.

Having some experience with the reality of their waiting room, I called to find out exactly what documentation I'd need to take, because their website suggests I should get divorced first and hence, doesn't offer the most appropriate advice. After half a day of sporadic dialling, I got through to a customer service person who seemed to actually offer what was promised in his title: customer service.

Even so, I wasn't thrilled with his answer. According to their guidelines, I'd need a birth certificate and one form of photo ID. I offered my 18-months-expired passport, and after he said no, asked why the marriage certificate they'd used to change it in the first place, combined with whatever other ID I had in my married name wouldn't do the trick. I also suggested my licence used to be in my maiden name, and after he confirmed that, agreed that their guidelines were a little odd. His eventual advice was to take everything to a branch and try my luck, no promises, although I had the feeling that if I got someone like him, I would get lucky. He also said I'd have more chance if I could get something else changed first, like a credit card.

As our bank prides itself on being old-fashioned in the ways of customer service and knowing that my account has a note on it to state what my maiden name is so they'll accept cheques in that name (for the thousands I make from my writing), I figured the bank was a sure bet. I dropped in this afternoon, just to ask what I'd need.

But guess what? They wanted a divorce certificate.

At home, I called the Department of Births, Deaths and Marriages for advice. The lovely man thought Vic Roads and the bank were being ridiculous and told me what I already knew: I have the right to choose to use either my maiden name, my married name, or a combination of both. Unfortunately they don't have an actual document or web page that states this clearly, so I just had to keep trying. I did confirm that if worse came to worst, I could do a Change of Name from my maiden name to my maiden name, which seems even more ridiculous.

Because I have nothing better to do with my time, I called the bank, spoke to a supervisor, and repeated what the Births, Deaths and Marriages guy said as well as to suggest that their guidelines are probably put in place for events that happen frequently rather than for one-off situations. I pointed out too, that everyone had the same guidelines and someone had to go first.

I'm not sure she understood what I meant by that, but when I went in, she agreed I had enough documentation to make the change. Hurray.

There is a downside though, something (obvious) I hadn't thought about. She took my credit and cash cards so I'll have to avoid shopping until my new cards arrive. And when they do, I can treat myself to a visit to the Vic Roads waiting room.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

sticky dates

It's almost as if this past week never existed and, once tomorrow hits, maybe that's what I'm going to believe.

It's been that time (of hopefully the year) when the five of us share a crappy bug that we seem to make sure we all suffer on a different day. As far as doing any work goes, well, I'm back at square one really, which reminds me of all the people who think I might be doing too much.

But I'm not going to beat myself up about how much writing I may or may not get done in a set period, specifically a short one like, say, a week. Maybe once all the kids are at school (in 2014: sigh) I might push myself a little harder, but for now it just wouldn't be worth it. Instead, when family commitments keep me back, I think about a writing friend who's told me often that when her kids were little, she didn't do any writing. At all.

Anyway, the week wasn't a complete disaster. We bought a fancy new tagine and have already cooked with it, and Bryden made a belated Valentine's sticky date pudding (once we'd recovered from the tummy bug).

We don't celebrate Valentine's Day in the popular way (was going to say traditional, but is it?), but every year, Bryden does make a sticky date pudding. It's a reminder of our previous lives when we used to spend days cooking together (instead of going to movies, dinner, whatever couples do) and also because he makes the best sticky date pudding in the world.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Guidelines schmidelines

You’ve heard it so often your eyes roll automatically when you hear it again: make sure you read and follow the guidelines before submitting. You know about guidelines, you follow guidelines, and you wish everyone would just shut up already. I mean, that’s the easy bit, right? Times New Roman, check; 12 point, check; double space, check. Why can’t they spend those precious minutes telling you about something useful, that pearl of wisdom that’s going to make the ideas write themselves?

It’s because many writers still don’t seem to get it. Sure, we all make mistakes and where editors are rejecting no more than 1% of submissions, perhaps this is the case: writers simply make mistakes.

But what about the editor who rejected 10% of submissions because they didn’t comply with the guidelines? And do we really believe that they are all mistakes when 11 journal editors reported that 2% of submissions don’t follow guidelines? When you consider that literary magazine editors receive anything from 90 to 1000+ submissions, 2% might be quite a lot.
The good news is that most writers do follow the guidelines. On average, 98%. But, even if you’re one of them, you might occasionally make a mistake. And when that happens, what are the chances your submission might be considered anyway?

It depends on the mistake.

If you fail to meet the deadline, forget it. You’re also wasting your time if you email a submission when it's supposed to be in hardcopy, or vice versa.

There’s a slim chance a submission that’s over the word limit might be read.

If you send more than three (or other maximum number of) pieces, you risk the editors reading just the first three or discarding the entire submission. If it’s a newer magazine, they might read all the pieces, but they’ll also remember your name and be wary of your future submissions.

If you’re lucky (and you sent it long before the deadline), the editor may even give you an opportunity to resubmit correctly. But don’t hold your breath. While some editors might try to nurture new writers in this way, most believe that "if you’re serious about being a writer, deadlines, styles, word counts and restrictions are things you’re going to have to get comfy with."

It is less common for editors to be strict about the font used, and several publications don’t include a specific font in their guidelines. For those that do, some will automatically reject and some won’t. But it was noted that these pieces "don’t generally get accepted, more as a result of poor quality writing".

Here are some of the things that editors believe/say:
• People who write well present well
• Most editors prioritise "painless" manuscripts (ie those that are well written and edited)
• Most editors are well read, so multiple submissions are at your own risk: if your submission is published, an editor could well see it in another journal
• If you can’t wait, only send your work to journals that allow multiple submissions
• It’s worth remembering that if your piece is published, it will be published in the style and font of the journal.

One editor said, "If something is poorly edited, I assume:
 the author is a hobbyist who doesn’t care about their work or
 the author is an idiot who couldn’t tidy it or
 the author has delusions of grandeur and thinks they’re above the rules and hence, that
 the author will be difficult to deal with."

One editor made a suggestion that other editors might like to try. Provide a sample document on your website to show writers what you expect.

Some editors who were less strict about general submissions felt the reason might be because money wasn’t involved. Yet, when it comes to competitions, and the introduction of money, administrators are tough.

If you’re thinking of entering your story/poem in a competition, it’s even more important to follow the guidelines/conditions/rules.

If you forget to include the entry fee, mistakenly send work with your name on it, or your entry is late, you’ll be automatically disqualified. There are exceptions. A few administrators might offer you an opportunity to resubmit correctly. One administrator noted that they re-photocopy entries without names before passing them on to the judge(s).

But most administrators don’t go to the trouble. Particularly as many are volunteering their time.

Competition administrators generally agree that most writers follow the rules. Most I spoke to don’t keep statistical records, but of the few who do, they disqualified 0%, 4%, 6% and 14% of entries in their most recent competition, due to incorrect formatting (font type and size, spacing), a name on the piece, theme requirement not being met or due to the piece exceeding the word/line length. This means they weren’t read by anybody.

The administrator who didn’t disqualify any claimed to have been strict in regards to limits and spacing and that all entries received were okay.

One administrator welcomed entries that failed to meet the guidelines as an easy first step in their shortlisting process.

In a competition, the main concern is for the quality of writing and it was noted that "entries that have numerous spelling, punctuation or grammatical errors don’t generally win".

In case you’re still not sure, I’ll leave you with the advice of one competition administrator. "Imagine your entries will be processed by everyone’s idea of an old fashioned, 'stickler for the rules’ bureaucrat. Published rules have to be enforced to give procedural fairness to those who go to the effort of conforming to them."

And, good luck.

This article was originally published in the february edition of the Victorian Writer, the Victorian Writers' Centre's member magazine.

Journal submissions
I surveyed, via email, 20 national literary journal editors.
Of those:
- 4 publish poetry only
- 1 publishes fiction only
- 3 are online journals
- 8 had produced less than 10 issues, including 3 that had produced only 1 issue.

Literary competition administrators
I approached, via email, 15 national competition administrators.
Of those:
- 9 responded
- 4 are poetry-only competitions
- 2 are fiction-only competitions
- 3 are poetry and fiction competitions

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

writing space

It seems like everyone is posting pictures of their writing spaces online at the moment. Usually I wouldn't be tempted to follow trends, but it strikes me that posting an image of my study might shame me into cleaning the damn thing.

Sure, this area is not my current writing space, but it used to be and it will be again just as soon as I actually find the space.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

following up on guidelines

I always look forward to receiving my copy of Victorian Writer (The Victorian Writers' Centre's member magazine) and usually rush home to make a cuppa to sip while I read. This month, I looked forward to it just a little more than usual, because I have an article in there that deals with something that really irritates me (during the page seventeen submission period at least).

Yes, submission guidelines and whether or not writers follow them.

Last year I had a little rant about it after I received one too many that didn't conform and then asked you what you thought. The general consensus seemed to be that everyone agreed that all writers should follow them or expect not to have their work considered.

That got me thinking. If everyone agrees, why are so many non-conforming submissions received or, are we the only magazine receiving enough to drive us to rant in public? So, I asked around, collated responses and wrote about it for the members of the Victorian Writers' Centre.

But it isn't something that only members of the Victorian Writers' Centre should have the opportunity to read about. After all, I approached editors and competition administrators from other states too. So, next week, I'll be posting the article here too, so you can all work out for yourselves whether sending work that doesn't meet a publication's guidelines will even be read, let alone shine through as the piece they just have to have (and therefore overlook your inability to do what they asked).

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Now I'll have to stick to 'em

Now that 2010 is well established, I thought I'd share some of my writing goals, like I promised.

When I summed up my efforts last year, it became apparent that I needed to change the structure of my goal-setting, and to include shorter term goals, or maybe even to focus on short term goals. Which is what I've done. Although I do have one big goal for the year.

Which is to participate in, and win, NaNoWriMo again.

Even though this is my big goal for the year, I'm breaking it down into smaller goals. For instance, until the end of June, I plan only to research and make journal notes. I've already assigned this novel its own notebook/journal and yesterday wrote the first notes in it, filling a page. The research is mostly in the form of reading, so manageable as well as fun. From July to October, I'll be making more structured notes that will act as my outline so I'll be ready to dive into the actual writing come November 1.

For other writing, I've taken a completely different approach to what I used to do, which was to designate a number of poems and/or short stories, etc I'd hope to knock off for the year. This year, I decided I want to get out more.

Not the kind of getting out I did lots of last year (although I still plan to go to a variety of events), but the kind of getting out where I go out TO write. Where there is no Facebook, no Twitter, no telephone and no housework. I've set my goal for this in hours, starting smallish, and will revise it at the end of March. Of course I'll continue to write at home as well.

Having a fairly good idea of how I tend to work, I'm going to trust that whatever's going on around me will guide me as to what to write and/or how to spend my time. For instance, when I'm planning to go to a few poetry nights, I seem to have energy (and ideas) for writing poetry and when I'm exhausted I find that outlining a piece or brainstorming an idea is the best use of time. Of course, if it turns out this isn't a disciplined enough approach for me, I'll be making changes.

I have a few other little things noted in my journal under the goals heading, like to write more non-fiction and to make sure I don't miss too many submission deadlines, but these are the main things I hope to achieve this year. And now I've shared them with you, I feel accountable.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Miscellaneous Voices: Australian Blog Writing

Now it's time to get back into some good routines, I'm going to start by sharing some good news.

You may remember that, a while back, I mentioned Miscellaneous Press were seeking submissions of blog posts for their first issue of Miscellanous Voices: Australian Blog Writing.

Well, the good news is that my piece titled Structure has been accepted. Acceptances are always good news, but starting the year with one is just the best.

Here's a bit more about Miscellaneous Voices (from their website):
Inside Miscellaneous Voices: Australian Blog Writing you will find reflections on love, loss, literature, and how our lives are being affected by the shifting methods of communication in this digital age.

Featuring the work of James Bradley, Lisa Dempster, Angela Meyer, Jennifer Mills, A. S. Patric, Penni Russon, and many others.

The book launch date is Wednesday 14th April, at Readings, Carlton, Melbourne from 6-8pm.