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.Β  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.

New year. New determination.

Happy 2019 to all. I am very pleased it is the new year. 2018 was great, but December, as seems to be the case these days, was a bit of an anxious slog. I felt like I was stumbling toward the finish line by the end of it.

But I have just come back from an extremely refreshing and much-needed holiday in sunny Southern California, which is where I grew up. The last two weeks have contained delightfully happy times with family and friends that have set me up well for the new year.

Considering all of this, there has been a bit of a break in the creative writing process. However, I am determined to make 2019 another writing year and get back to my collection of short stories. I have written two so far and had feedback from my writing partner on both.

The dilemma now is this: do I redraft as I go, or write all of them and then redraft? They are all stand alone stories, but I’m leaning toward writing them all and then redrafting as there may be similarities in how I’m approaching the material in each of them. And it will be satisfying to have the full manuscript done, albeit as a first draft.

I’m not going to forge ahead with 500 words today as jetlag from yesterday’s flight is wreaking havoc on my concentration skills. But, from tomorrow, let the flurry of typing begin!

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.