The ups and downs of writing

Writing, like life, is not always easy or fun. Life, like writing, comes with multitudinous struggles that affect our ability to create. I don’t want this blog to be a litany of successes and goals, because that would not be the full picture.

These past two weeks have been mentally taxing for personal reasons, and I’ve really struggled to write much of anything. I’ve done a few poems, but that’s all. The short story compilation is sitting idly by, gathering e-dust in my hard drive. My writing partner gave me feedback ages ago that I have still not implemented.

But this is all normal and I am learning that in writing, and in life, I don’t have to be 100% everyday. That would be impossible. The perfectionist in me is very punishing at times and I keep having to tell them that they need to take a break from the relentless quest for achievement. We are getting slightly more self-compassionate, but it is an uphill battle.

This morning I have written a poem that I am quite pleased with so I will continue working on that. But in the meantime, I’m trying to remember that productivity comes and goes. We are not machines. Discipline is one thing, but firing on all cylinders all the time isn’t human.

 

First poetry performance

I have some very good news to share since my last post. I have performed my first poem to an audience. This was a very big deal for me as I never thought I’d have the confidence to do such a thing.

I haven’t done any public speaking in years and the prospect, only just a few months ago, seemed incredibly daunting. I have read out creative work in writing groups, but those readings were part of critiquing sessions sitting around a table, rather than a performance.

The act of presenting a poem aloud seemed at once both timeless and contemporary.  Since the origin of humanity, people have been sharing stories and experiences vocally in a group setting. These expressions lead to real connection and support within a community of people. We learn to walk in each other’s shoes. At the same moment, the world in 2019 specifically seems a place in which creativity of all sorts is flourishing, perhaps as an antidote to all that is dangerous politically.

Energised by the performance, I have found that a new door of creativity has opened up in my mind. I can write better poems and I can perform them aloud.

I definitely need to work on my presentation skills, however. I read my poem with my hands in my pockets so they wouldn’t shake, staring at the piece of cardboard I’d inscribed, which rested on a mantelpiece above a fireplace, with my back to half the audience. Not great.

But the goal was to get through it, and that I did. Now I’m ready to learn how to be better and am planning to perform more poetry in the future. first poetry performance

Photo credit: Lucy Tertia George, novelist.

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.

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.