Forgotten words and poetry

Two weeks on from my last post and I have made no progress on the novel. My plan is to dedicate quite a bit of the weekend to it, in addition to finding another suitable short story competition.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about the difference between writing and speaking. I find that when I am writing poems, words come to me in a way that they would not in conversation. For me, there can be anxiety in conversation that is not there when it is just myself and my notebook. And I surprise myself with words I forgot I knew.

Some of these forgotten words are associated with people and voices from the past. Perhaps as we get older the words we know are often remembered in relation to others in our life.

For me, both sets of my grandparents had very distinctive voices when I was a child and their phrasing and comments were unusual to me having grown up in another country to theirs. An example of a forgotten, but then joyously remembered word, from the past in relation to Granny is “vol-au-vent”. If someone had said to me in conversation, “what do you call a little puff pastry case?” I would be clueless. But when it was just me and my notebook, in the midst of a poem, my brain searching for a rough rhyme with “confidants”, vol-au-vents came to me in a memory associated with my grandparents.

There’s something about the experience of solitariness and writing that brings forgotten words to the surface. They are perhaps forgotten while speaking, sometimes because the brain is doing so much direct communication. There is no distance or time to ponder over the perfect word. I guess the contradictory nature of this is that the words are summoned up in quietness, but originate in conversation.

And now I shall share the poem:

Not confident

Not confident, but confident,

I have confidants and amusement.

Not confident, but confident,

I have vol-au-vents and too much to choose from.

Not confident, but confident,

I have reinforcements and bemusement.

Not confident, but confident,

I have penchants and obscurement.

Not confident, but confident,

I am scared that I might lose them.

Novel writing and the distance of time

Rewriting of the novel continues. My task now is to think about structure. The structure currently is haphazard. I initially had a new chapter after each day of writing. Then I tried to improve it with chapter titles spaced evenly throughout the book. Neither of these methods made sense.

Early on after draft one, I was advised by an author that each chapter needed to end at a meaningful moment. Perhaps a cliffhanger. Perhaps a small resolution. Whatever it was, it had to make sense to serve as the end the chapter. Chapter structure is one challenge I am facing, over a year from when I started writing this book.

The other challenge, and the thing that frustrates me about the current 55,000 words, is the excessive exposition! I have been constantly explaining things; often, things that do not drive the plot forward at all. I am seeing my novel now with the distance of time in a whole new light.

Other advice on structure I have received from my writing buddy, Lucy, is to plot the whole thing out. Where’s the rising action, where’s the falling action, etc. I have now done that and come up with some action on which to base the narrative. I should have done this in the beginning.

The critical point to make today is how time changes you as a writer. I have learnt so much more about writing since I started the novel that now I see it full of flaws. The writing served a specific purpose for me at the time when I was writing last year. But now we are coming to the end of another year and the distance shows me that the novel needs masses of work. I will keep going.

Would love to hear feedback on others’ experiences of temporal perspective and writing.

A solitary student finds her tribe

The word ‘homework’ does not summon up joy in everyone’s heart. But for me, it does. At school I loved homework, which made me a bit of an annoying swot, maybe. I loved learning, and I loved doing the necessary work to learn as much as possible. I also loved getting A’s (maybe another annoying character trait). But we are who we are.

I was recently sent a joke about the fact that being a writer means you always have homework. It was funny, but as I am so nerdy, I thought: that’s great! Just what I want.

Writing gives my life purpose and the fact that I am now aspiring to get my work out there has also provided a huge amount of meaning. Writing is not the only thing that gives my life purpose, of course. My beloved friends and family score higher, but I am speaking vocationally. With writing I can make connections with people through creativity, I can have goals, I can add a new facet to my identity and I can express myself to others in a positive way.

One of my key new links is with my writing buddy, the author of Three Women (available from 31 Oct 2018), Lucy Tertia George (https://www.facebook.com/lucytertiageorge/). We are often bouncing ideas off each other and I appreciate her necessary feedback so much. Without writing in my life, I would never have discovered this enriching connection.

Yesterday I submitted my first short story to a competition. I spent most of the day in my studio editing it. I have been working on it since early June. Lucy provided two rounds of feedback, and I got input from some other friends as well.

So writing is like homework. And I am always a student wanting to learn. However, there is a crucial difference between most of my solitary homework in the past and what’s happening now. I really think collaboration, getting feedback, talking and getting the work out there are fundamental. Surely, it takes a village and once you get your tribe right, the writing should definitely improve.

 

Back to the novel

blur book stack books bookshelves

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

Today I am reexamining my novel. My last edits were in the Spring. It feels like a bit of a drag to work on it, but I heard Kate Tempest say on the radio today that a writer should write especially when it’s hard or they think they can’t face it.

There are some things that I am very proud of in the novel so I hope it does see the light of day at some point. The daunting prospect at the moment is that I have to change the career path of one of the main characters. As this is a main focus of much of the story, it’s going to be a lot of work. Also, I need to create a bit more conflict. At the moment there is not a lot driving the plot.

But sometimes I just feel like shouting in my head, ‘I’m sick of this character!’ I think this is probably a normal part of the process. And maybe as the rewriting happens she will reemerge as a new entity that I am not sick of.

I am facing inertia and frustration with the novel, but I will press on.  It’s a Sunday afternoon at home. I need to be writing. Words of encouragement welcome!

Fear and writing in North London

I often feel like I am just beginning this writing journey. That is a complete fallacy, however, and it comes from a lack of courage. I have always been writing; not always stories, but prose (and some poetry) nonetheless.

When I was at uni, I remember trying to pinpoint the moments in my life when I felt most happy. In super nerd fashion, my happiest moments were the final stages of essay writing. I would be making certain the argument flowed, editing and ensuring I had the perfect words in place.

These days I feel like I have imposter syndrome (but I know we all feel this way at times). When I first went to a writing group in 2016, I was so non-committal: ‘Don’t have a genre, not sure what I want to write about, not trying seriously to get published…just dabbling.’

It’s fear, ultimately. I really want to write, I really want it to be read, but I’m scared of that happening. Still, the situation is improving.

I have taken a lot of steps in the plan over the last few years: very happily finding an inspirational writing buddy, writing groups, speaking with an agent, getting to know a publisher, joining a writers’ network online, sending my novel to agents and getting lots of rejections, and, of course: tons of writing.

There is a literary novel, half a dystopian novel, book reviews, two short stories, more poems than I can count, and then all the random scribblings in notebooks and other false starts on my netbook. I also have a job in publishing.

What I have to do is keep going. Just keep moving forward with the words.

The development is in the details

I’ve been reading Joan Didion’s South and West: From a Notebook, a birthday gift from a good friend. The details are impeccable. As a writer, I’ve become obsessed with trying to remember details of the day, snapshot vignettes of moments and encounters.

Last year, I remember vividly sitting down at a bus stop and seeing a neat pile of empty cassette cases underneath the bench. How could this have possibly come to be? Someone collecting cassettes like it’s 1989, going through a recent stash at the bus stop and deciding they didn’t want the cases, there and then; they just had to shed the excessive plastic immediately because they had precious little room in their bag and the tapes themselves were all that mattered?

I noted that the cases were from blank tapes. I longed to know more of this story. How six empty blank cassette cases came to find themselves sitting under a bus bench outside HMP Pentonville on Caledonian Road in North London in early June of 2017? Nothing but questions.  I should have taken a photo.

Another fascinating scene: one of the many winding, secretive passageways in the City. Such portals are brimming with ghost stories from hundreds of years of human activity (too sterile a description, really). Hundreds of years of tears, fears, cheers, beers and careers, to add some rhyming.

This particular encounter on this particular day really brought me to a pause. On the ground there were about 20 cigarette butts. On the wall there was a notice telling people that they were on camera and to stub out their cigarettes in the allocated receptacle or else (a fine, I believe).

This isn’t a comment on smoking or littering; it was just something about the warning, the total disregard for the warning, and the resulting detritus on the ground. I can’t think of a wry Didion-esque summary to encapsulate this scenario, but it is somewhere in my brain. People will find a way, I guess. Like the smoking Tyrannosaurus Rexes that we all are.

So writing is in the details. I’m going to practice writing details now to describe my recycling items that I’ve been collecting to walk down the road to the recycling bins. If it is of any quality it will be my next blog post. Watch this space diligently.

The power of handwriting.

The discipline of writing

Like any craft, writing takes discipline. The discipline can be a joy and meaningful, even when it is hard work.

About a month ago I was lucky enough to visit a Dylan Thomas exhibition in Swansea. I was fascinated to see the notes detailing his writing process.

I was also interested in the word lists and general scribbling.

I see my free time these days as opportunities to practice writing. Actually, it is not free time at all because I am trying to align a mentality in which my content design and editing work and creative writing outside of that work coalesce into a general experience of word vocation.

In the studio where I live I have 23 notebooks. Some are diaries completely full. Some are poetry books completely full. Some are agendas and lists completely full. Each notebook serves a specific purpose. One or two are still empty, awaiting scribal action.

Happily, a few years ago, I realized my loved ones were buying me notebooks as presents. So 11 of the 23 notebooks were actually gifted to me. This means I must have been talking enough about writing to establish it as something I love doing.

Last night I was working on a hard poem. I can see the sections that are good in it and the sections that are cliche and corny. A lot of the good parts seem to be related to rhythm and diction. Sometimes that comes very easily. Like a rap. But the difficulty is letting go of the desire to conclude, to sum up. The academic background creeps in again.

There is a lot of work to do and this blog is part of it. Documentation of the process encourages me to do the process.

Today I am back to editing my short story in preparation to enter it into a competition. On the poetry front I am currently working on a poem that I might one day soon get up enough courage to read aloud at a poetry night.