The poetry sails on

Obviously the world is a very different place since my last post in January. I am very thankful for my loved ones, my health and my material situation. I have been able to keep working on poetry during this lockdown period, refining past work, performing new work virtually at Celine’s Salon and featuring on Soho Radio.

The City Lit course, “Ways into Poetry”, taught by Joanna Ingham was brilliant. I learnt new poetic forms as well as exercises to improve creativity. My fellow students were talented and dedicated. During the course I also went to my first poetry fair, met some more established poets over a pint and bought loads of pamphlets.

My current goal for my poetry is further publication and eventually a pamphlet. I have been through about 80 word-processed poems that I have written in the last year (which don’t include hundreds handwritten in notebooks over the past three years), and narrowed down a shortlist of 12 that I plan to redraft ready for publication.

As always I am very grateful to author Lucy Tertia George for her support, guidance and feedback on the poems. I am also enjoying making my way into the London poetry community, particularly getting to know poets at Celine’s Salon in Soho, Speakeasy in Fitzrovia, and the “Cheerfuls”.

There are a couple of deadlines coming up in May for publications that I am focused on and there will be more to follow. In the meantime, the poetry voyage is still very exciting and vital, and I’m lucky to have wind in my sails.

2020: new decade, new opportunities, new courage

The new decade has started well in the land of creative writing. I’m still focusing on poetry as per the goals discussed in my previous post. In that post I also mentioned a published poem which I failed to link to: Lost smugglers.  Thank you to Bridget Holding and Wild Words for the opportunity and support.

My poetry course began last week at CityLit and I can tell it’s going to be great. The tutor is the wonderful Joanna Ingham who has recently published a pamphlet called Naming Bones (ignitionpress, 2019). She got us straight into memory, emotions and anaphora in the first class, which was fascinating and useful. And she’s assigned optional homework that I am absolutely going to do because I love homework.

Another new endeavour recently has been the organising of a new meetup group: Queer Poets. I am very excited about our first get-together this upcoming Friday evening at the Rose and Crown pub in Kentish Town. People are welcome to share poetry, join in a constructive feedback session and then enjoy a social together. I’m very much looking forward to meeting everyone and being in a creative environment with fellow poets.

I have also recently moved into a different flat which has so much natural light my vitamin D levels are probably through the roof, despite the often grey sky. The space is so beautiful and has really been conducive to reflection and poetry rewriting.

All of these new beginnings have boosted my confidence and courage, and I am pleased to be starting the new year on a positive note.

 

 

Poetic inspiration and creative focus

Since my last entry, my creative writing process has been reenergised, refocused and awash in inspiration. Happily I had one of my poems read by an amazing poet on BBC radio. That same poem also won runner up in a competition.

I have made a decision to only focus on poetry at this time which definitely means I spend more time rewriting and editing, instead of constantly coming up with new, undeveloped ideas in my notebook that never go anywhere.

I currently have just over 50 poems in various drafting stages. In January I will begin a poetry course at City Lit. The talented members of the poetry group of which I am a member are flourishing. And I have continued performing, reciting and learning about presenting poetry in public. My goal for 2020 is to publish a collection of poems.

I find writing poetry so important and so satisfying. It’s not just about the initial inspiration, but also the restructuring, the reordering and the finessing. I have not had this much fun with writing since my time in academia writing about history.

Recently I have begun a new phase of poetry writing that is not about grief. This is very refreshing and, again, I am learning what works and what doesn’t. I am also exploring humour. I am enjoying writing discrete episodic poems, in which one small activity or incident is dwelled upon and dissected to the core. Hopefully this brings greater meaning to the mundane.

I am also extremely lucky to share ideas and feedback with an extraordinary writing partner who is fundamental to this process.

So, since my last post things are looking up creatively. And I am very pleased.

Tomorrow I am performing a new poem at Celine’s Salon in Gerry’s Club, Soho, London, 7.30pm.  See you there.

Finding your voice

Identifying your ‘voice’ in creative writing is no easy feat. But it is vital, at least within one cohesive piece of writing. The spoken word can enable a writer’s voice. Here, I’d like to explore how our writerly voices and verbal voices relate.

I’ve been thinking about voice in a literal, physiological sense. I’ve never liked my speaking voice, until recently. I’ve had some good feedback from people so I’m going to drop the self-critical impulse in this regard. Anyway, it is what it is. My voice represents my personal story.

I also find this topic interesting in the wider sense of communication: how do you know what to say? It wasn’t just that I didn’t used to like my voice, I found conversation difficult at times. So much to say potentially, but not knowing what to focus on for each particular interaction. I would be sporadically verbose, and reticent the rest of the time.

But that’s also the self-consciousness of younger years, maybe. I found speech hard, but writing much easier. So I did a lot of personal writing to connect with people. It was easier to formulate the arguments and ideas through writing, than it would be in a verbal conversation.

Still, the happy news now is that I am learning, through recitations, performances and conversations, the power of the spoken voice which has also made me consider the purpose of voice in creative writing.

What does it mean exactly? I found this useful piece from Medium that explains it well:

The writer’s voice: what is it and how to find yours

In a nutshell, voice makes your work you. It’s your personality, your experiences, and it is unique. I’m still working on this in writing, and I guess we all are, always. But I have found that strengthening my spoken voice and putting it on a stage has been very empowering.

Speaking publicly forces you to be the centre of attention. So your uniqueness becomes more immediate and more raw. It is not buried in paragraphs. You can’t hide yourself in an essay.

I do think the writer’s voice and the speaker’s voice can inform one another. For me, the plan is to become more confident in conversation and public speaking, so I can also write with a stronger sense of authenticity.

 

The importance of deadlines

Writing as often as possible is a goal. However, I do not achieve this as much as I would like. Sometimes I’m tired. Sometimes I’ve been socialising a lot. Sometimes I’m exhausted from content designing. Sometimes I’m reading.

But deadlines constitute concrete goals that I can structure my time around. At the moment my two forms of deadlines are:

  1. Performances
  2. Competitions

I have so far only performed at one venue (once a month, so four times this year). Each of these occasions demanded plenty of prep work: rewriting, editing, rehearsing and meetings with my writing partner. In May and June I have a few other nights, at different venues, where I will be performing as well. So more prep work to do and concrete deadlines to work towards.

I have also started entering competitions. This takes time and dedication again, particularly as there are so many (though I am choosey, especially when time poor). Unfortunately I missed all the deadlines on 30 April and 1 May due to the reasons aforementioned (tired, socialising, content designing or reading). Still, competition entry is another new discipline, like performing, in 2019 that is lending impetus to my writing habits.

Deadlines are essential for me. I can be quite driven generally, but I still need those extra incentives to focus my writing practice. And both forms of incentives involve sharing work with new audiences, which is absolutely critical to the whole process.

When do you call yourself a writer?

When do we own a label such as “writer”? How much writing do we have to do to achieve this badge?

Identity shifts throughout our lives. Some people identify with the work they do, and some have other primary identifiers. After several years of practicing meditation and noting how much things change from moment to moment, I now find identity tricky. Still, the concept is powerful.

There is a massive discussion point here about identity politics and “where we are now” in the turbulent day to day. The topic is a salient one.

When you first meet a new person, “what do you do?” might be an early question. This is a complicated conversation universally, I think. What’s our default answer? For me, it has tended to be about what I do to earn a living: my day job. But we could all say so much more than that.

Focusing on the “day job” side of identity here, I think lots of categories/binaries are breaking down when it comes to work. People’s DIY careers are telling because they often merge many forms of activity: career, work, free time, passion and vocation, among others. It’s not simply professional versus personal.

So, when do we call ourselves writers? Each to their own, I think. Who we are is there for us to imagine and then create (only if we have that privilege: a fundamental qualifier).

I don’t have a straight-forward answer to the question, other than an “I think, therefore I am” approach. I’ve written loads now, so I would definitely call myself a writer. Authorship is a debate for a different entry, but I believe even that identity (like all identities) could be shape-shifting.

 

When is the right time for write time?

Over the years I’ve read about many different routines of great writers and discovered that almost all are strict and followed religiously. Usually the prolific writers start quite early in the morning.

Waking up early is a new thing for me over the past couple of years. I love the quiet of the early morning and drinking coffee in bed, even on weekdays. By the time I leave for my walk to the office, I’ve been up for at least two hours.

However, it is only recently that I have started writing in the early morning. Before this, I still had it in my head that I was not a morning person, so, even if I was awake, creativity wouldn’t work.

Actually, writing in the early morning is very productive, for me at least. The creativity does work. So far I’ve only written in the early morning at the weekend, but I’m considering instigating it on weekdays as well, especially as I feel quite tired in the evenings and go to bed relatively early, if I’m having an evening in.

I am currently feeling very passionate about poetry in the morning. I have recently done another recitation at the same literary night as before. I felt much more solid this time. Still a long way to go, but hopefully that is always the case, the growing and changing.

I have also returned to my short story compilation, to get myself back in the prose head space. For me, with this and other story projects, along with poetry, early morning writing seems to be the way forward for skillful outputs.

Second poetry performance

Second poetry performance. Photo credit: Lucy Tertia George.

From medium.com:

The Daily Routine of 20 Famous Writers

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.

 

Creative projects, new ideas and the writer’s studio

I am very pleased to announce that I am starting work on a book of short stories. The content remains a secret for now, but, after considering my creative/life trajectory, I’m convinced that it will be a very worthwhile project. I’ve set myself a goal of writing 500 words a day. I am quite goal-driven so this will probably mean a great deal of output.

I have already finished the first draft of the first story. 2500 words. It needs to be revised before I send it to my writing partner (as usual, very supportive and instrumental in the brainstorming of this idea).

It is a stimulating project because there is a huge amount of content to draw from. Knowing how to manage that, respect the material and create compelling narratives in each story will be the exciting challenge.

At the same time, I have just acquired the most delightful, adjustable Italian-made chair to sit in and write (pictured below). I had a gift voucher for John Lewis which covered the cost completely. It has transformed my beloved studio into a much more creative space. Since it arrived on Wednesday, I have spent hours sitting in it. As a fold-up outdoor chair it is stored easily in my corridor.

All is well with the creation of a potentially publishable book and my habitat. Lots of work to do, but the creative future looks promising.New chair

The writer as observer

A month since my last post and I have made little progress with any of my writing projects. My personal life has interjected itself so I haven’t been in an easy frame of mind to write. Then again, maybe that’s just the time when I should be writing. Should have, could have, would have. Either way, I haven’t and I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I have been writing poems as usual, but even those got put on the back burner for a short while there. Back to it now.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the life of an observer. I do a lot of meditation and this allows me to notice things around me more easily than I used to. At least, that’s how it seems. And then I just stare. I stare and I try to think how I can write it down somehow. The following is some practice in observation.

A snapshot of the queue at the food shop

The queue is static. No one moves. One person working the till, at the end, next to about five unused tills, devoid of necessary staff members. I am next up. There must be ten people behind me.

“Can someone please come to help on the tills?” the one staff member makes a plaintive call out to her team. One minute passes. No one comes to help. I stand dead still. The woman behind me looks at her phone.

Suddenly, steam erupts from the Costa coffee machine next to the queue. I stare at it. It is out of service it says. I can’t remember if it says that on a piece of paper or on its electronic screen.

The machine keeps outputting steam and noise. No one seems to notice. I keep staring. It stops. Another call out from the single staff member. Still no one arrives.

I’ve only been standing like this, next up, for about three minutes perhaps. Time seems to have frozen. I could have been here like this for an hour.

Finally, just as the customer in front finishes their transaction, and I walk quickly forward, another team member arrives at another till. I go to the first till. Not to the newcomer.

I bag my shopping as quickly as I can, aware of the impatience behind me. I am at the ready with my membership card so this whole process will take as little time as possible. When the receipt is printed, the beleaguered staff member says stoically that there is a survey included and a little feedback would go a long way. She looks at me pointedly as she says this. “My name is on the receipt”.

The end.

Three Women by Lucy Tertia George

To close, I have a very exciting update. My writing partner, Lucy Tertia George, launched her timely book on 31 October to great acclaim and excitement. We sold out at the launch and I am so honoured to have been a part of her project. Below are instructions on how to buy it (published by Starhaven Press), both from within the UK and internationally. A must read.

UK instructions for Three Women

Three Women by Lucy Tertia George

International instructions for Three Women

Three Women by Lucy Tertia George