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

 

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.