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.
In 2006 I took a creative writing course in Los Angeles, where I was living at the time. The main lesson I remember is that the author’s job is to make things as difficult as possible for the characters in the story. In my novel I struggled with this because of its diary-like, autobiographical nature. I didn’t want to make things hard for anyone! Hence the lack of conflict.
I am now learning that creative writing is not about solving lots of problems. I haven’t really worked out what it is about entirely. For me, so far, it is an artistic endeavour of personal expression that will hopefully resonate with the reader. In my PhD I asked the question: “why did people read?”. There were multitudinous answers that you can find in my thesis if you feel so compelled.
The reading lives of English men and women, 1695-1830
I have received feedback on my short story now and it is so helpful. I am going to a writing group tomorrow to work on applying changes that will definitely improve the piece. I need to make things more difficult for the main character. This will make the story more universal.
While the process of writing is useful for me, ultimately the work needs to get out there. As a content designer I am constantly thinking about the user/reader. While it is not creative writing at my job, similar principles apply. Writing (and art) involves creator/expression and reader/reception. And that reception is not passive. Ultimately, the readers have licence to interpret as they will. Therefore, writing and art are acts of bravery and vulnerability.
The more challenging the plot line, the more rewarding the progression in the characters. The more rewarding the progression in the characters, the more human the story.
This evening I have finished the first draft of my short story and sent it to a good friend who is one of my readers. I’m feeling nervous as I always do when sharing my work, but I know feedback is essential. I have joined a few different writing groups over the last several years and they have all been useful in this respect. I’ve enjoyed the community feel and mutual support.
An interesting dilemma I’ve had while writing the short story is, “what am I trying to say?” When I was writing for my history degrees, I was supposed to convey an argument based on evidence. That seems very rational and easy (relatively) compared to creative writing.
The lack of parameters in story writing brings with it freedom, but also fears of emotional exposure. Even though to study history, one must study the historians (it is famously said), reading about the factual past leaves less room to consider the historian than I’ve found with creative writing. Then again, all reading involves an awareness of the author. A book is not composed by a no one in the aether and we know this. So perhaps the historian and the novelist are not so different after all.
It’s a question for postmodernism, I think. In the meantime, the rough draft of the short story is finished.
This blog is about my journey as a creative writer. I am a trained historian so much of my past writing has been academic. I have also been working for the last several years as a professional editor and, more recently, a content designer. So there have been, and still are, lots of words in my life. But this is the first time I’ve decided to log my process as a creative writer specifically.
In 2017, I dedicated myself to writing a novel. I completed the first draft in a matter of months following a discipline of writing a page a day. The process was very therapeutic and I learnt a lot about myself. As an emotionally restorative project it was very useful and healing, but as a story it lacked conflict. With a very meandering plot line, it operated in many ways as a diary with the main character based very obviously on myself. That project is on hold at the moment. It could do with a major re-write and I might get to that or jump straight into a new novel.
In the meantime, I have been working on a short story. This project has been much more visceral. There is challenging conflict and a lot of pain. While the novel was about a character self-actualizing, this short story is about a character, a child, in crisis. Emotionally it is more draining to write, but still rewarding. I am close to composing the ending now, but am still undecided about what it will be.
In addition to the above efforts, I write poems almost daily. Some are tools that allow me to emotionally connect to the world around me. Others are observations or experiences worth recording in poetry. And sometimes I just put words together to play with sounds, rhythms and other literary devices that I need to brush up on.
I hope to make this blog useful for my readers who are writing creatively or interested in this topic. I want to connect to other writers, share advice from the community and document my own journey as a creative writer.