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.
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.
At the moment I am struggling with focus and discipline related to creative writing. I’m not going to be too hard on myself because the summer was very difficult emotionally. I’m actually glad that autumn is here, which is unusual for me.
I’m looking forward to the literary nights starting again and I’m hoping that will spur me on. I don’t need to keep writing more and more introspective poems, flash fiction experiments or hectically scribbled ideas for novels. I need to dig deep and work on rewriting what I already have: the hard part.
Besides the literary nights, I’ve been wondering about other actions I can take to get me to do the hard work: back to a writing group, enter more competitions, sign up for a poetry course, splurge on a writers retreat, send poetry to the whatsapp poetry group, create a poetry collection to self-publish, contact agents again….? All of these actions would help motivate me to put some work in.
I think for now I will focus on the first literary night coming up in a week. I will choose one poem already written and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse; I will go one step at a time back to the creative discipline, as the leaves turn golden and start to fall.
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:
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 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.
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. Photo credit: Lucy Tertia George.
The Daily Routine of 20 Famous Writers
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.
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.
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.
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.