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Month: June 2011

Wordy Rappinghood

Emma's teapots
Collage by Emma Bennett
Some days you don’t have brain space or time for joined up thoughts. So, here is a random selection of some of my favourite words. Muse. Conjure. Teapot. Scarlet. Bubble. Enveloped. Hush. Oligarchy. Gossip. Ocean. Tingle. Pumpkin. Lush. Balustrade. Shingle. Plump. Fester. Champagne. Fetid. Luscious. Lascivious. Burgeoning. Jolt. Solace. Frisky. Pedantry. Iterative. Giggle. Jiggle. Truffle. Shaft. Corpulent. Warmth. Bear (or bare). Façade. Hat. Tangier. Chill. Satanic. Twinkle. Sponge. Dollop. Knot. Peregrination. Flute. Coalesce. Lurid. Bucket. Pebble. Fandango. Pumpernickel. Fritillary. Pupate. Gorgeous. Scintilla. Prickle. Tumultuous.

I see roses and thorns

Rose I have to decide on the tone I want for my writing. I’m not sure I know what that means. I do conceptually, but not practically. I have a sad need to define things so that sends me to the Dictionary of Literary Terms. It defines tone as ‘The reflection of a writer’s attitude (especially towards his readers), manner, mood and moral outlook in his work; even, perhaps, the way his personality pervades the work.’ Blimey. This suggests I need an analyst, not a writing mentor. It’s tricky (obviously) because I don’t think I have or want a tone that is straightforward (obviously). My attitude and mood is neither totally black nor fluffy and light. I’m looking for informal, without too much familiarity. I need to communicate layers, rather than absolutes. In my novel I want to laugh at the darker side of life, enjoy the absurdities – but not as an expression of nihilism. The novel must have heart, a positive heart.
John Mullan (How Novels Work) says: ‘’Tone’ is entirely separate from story.’ I sort of agree and sort of don’t. I can see that the basic characters and sequence of events I have in my head could be presented very differently depending on the tone I wish to use. The elements of the supernatural could be made frightening. There are characters who could be genuinely threatening. However, my story is more than this. What am I talking about? Let’s say the theme. The theme is one of positive growth from acceptance of genuine self and connection with others. The story is essentially a happy one that accepts the darker sides of life. (I have another story in my head that is far darker but still has a positive impetus at its heart.) I believe in love and family and community and all that stuff, but I don’t see any of it as very picture book perfect. It’s like my cakes – they usually taste good but they could look a little misshapen and eccentric.
If you are reading this I must apologise for the muddled thinking. I am using the blog to write things out in search of greater understanding. As you can see, I am far from defining clearly the quality of tone I wish to achieve. Even when/if I achieve this, I still need to work out how to adopt this tone in my writing, consistently. This may lie at the crux of my writing challenge. I tend to write without thinking too much. It seems that this will only get me so far. I am going to need to be more conscious, thoughtful, deliberate (like choosing the one exact word that say what I mean rather than going for two or three that are in the right arena). I am going to need to work at it. Sigh.

From the gloom

Blood leaves Something is emerging through the gloom. And it’s a surprise. I was expecting, looking for, words. In fact, it’s pictures. And now I remember. Writing involves pictures in my head. I don’t make up the sentences, I simply write about what I see in my head and what I feel about what I see. That’s what makes the writing part easy and that’s what’s been missing. I think it started when we went for a walk in the woods. Have you noticed how what you’re thinking about makes you not just see things differently, but see different things. Clearly my mood was dark because a scattering of red leaves among green looked like splashes of blood and the roots of trees seemed to reach out like coils of pythons. The gloom I remembered a story I started once. It involved a boy watching a couple out on a walk in the woods. He lurks in the darkness of the trees in the car park watching them argue. Of course something bad happens. The story came from that darkness and spooled into my head like a film. I didn’t look for a character and a motivation. I had to work those out based on what I saw. It wasn’t about finding the words that would sound good, but about finding the ones that would communicate what was in my head. Perhaps I should finish that story and see what other pictures come to take its place.

Pregnant pause

lava lamp You know those days when it has to rain and doesn’t. People say ‘It feels like rain’ but nothing happens. The sky is heavy and colourless, the air clammy. Nothing can be right again until it has rained. That’s what it’s like inside my head. Not writing makes me miserable. But writing is hard and the process of doing it makes me miserable sometimes. Creative writing is not my job, so many people’s response to my pained complaint that I haven’t written with a look that says ‘And?’ Why should it matter? It’s only a hobby after all. Try knitting or, better still, join a gym. I said this to the lovely CF and she said: ‘Don’t they think you’d choose something easier if it was just a hobby? Tap dancing is a hobby.’ (Personally, I found tap dancing very hard when I attempted it aged 13.) Writing is a compulsion. When it goes well it can be satisfying, but still you have to get over the hurdle of believing that it’s going well. How can you tell? It never seems to come out quite as well as you thought it possibly might. There is always something you can improve. You put it down and pick it up an hour, a week, a year later and realise all the things that are wrong with it – and how utterly shit you are as a writer. But you keep picking it up and you keep trying something new because you must. Although sometimes, the hurdle of insecurity is so enormous that you can’t get over it. In fact you are paralysed by the certainty that any attempt to do so will bring pain and humiliation (not unlike my attempt at running the 200m hurdles at school sports day). This blog in itself is an exercise in overcoming the critic in my head who says: ‘They’ll laugh. You’ll reveal how crap you are. You have nothing to say. And you’ll say it badly. You know your command of grammar can be shaky. And all those clichés.’ My critic has a lot to say for himself and never knows when to shut up. If I can do this to fight the bastard perhaps it will build my muscles and help me to get him on the ropes (cliché alert).

Turkey or the egg?

Turkey or the egg
Am I depressed because I can’t write or can I not write because I’m depressed? Which comes first? This blog is becoming more of a non-writing blog than a writing blog. The lovely CF, writing mentor, published novelist and good egg, suggested two possible techniques to overcome the problem. Firstly, set yourself a small task, such as writing 500 words a day or for just an hour. Apparently this is what Marian Keyes is doing to overcome the writer’s block she has faced due to severe depression (not that I place either my writing or depression on a par with hers). However, even that seems too great a hill to climb. The other suggestion was to write some back story or a single incident from the novel I am (was) working on, something that I never intend to be part of the finished narrative. The idea is that this will remove the pressure of carrying on with the novel whilst getting me going writing about those characters and ideas again. Nope. There’s nothing there. It’s as though the creative synapses in my head are dead. Whatever is the source of original words and thoughts, I am cut off from it. Every word has to be pulled from a pit under deep brambles, dragged through sharp thorns, and all you find yourself left with is a squashed, oozy syllable. I hold pen to paper and nothing happens. I have nothing to write. My Beloved suggests, practically, that I get on with it or give up – I’m wasting his time ranting on and on about it saying the same things, apparently. I’ve always maintained that practical writing, like this blog and writing marketing and training materials, comes from a different place from the creative writing. This seems to be further proof. I don’t want proof! I want back in to that other place! (And for my aforementioned Beloved to learn more sensitivity.)

Beautiful (hand)writing

HandwritingI went into see some young writers at my son’s primary school today. I went into run a story writing workshop with them a few weeks ago and went back to see how they were getting on. One of them is bubbling with words and ideas. She is working on chapter eight of her book. I don’t remember ever aspiring to write a whole book when I was 10. I wrote stories, but nothing longer than a few pages. (I wonder if the fact that they’re using word processors has any effect on this?) Looking at the work of this handful of kids who had taken up the challenge to join the writers’ group, I wondered what made someone a ‘writer’. When kids are young the ability to form letters before your peers makes you a gifted writer. Later it’s about spelling and the basics of grammar. At some point, though, you have to move beyond mastery of the building blocks to creating something with them. This is what I’m hoping to help these kids with. The ones with a desire to say something, with a passion for expressing themselves in words, using words to bring to life something that exists in their heads, these will be the writers – however messy their handwriting is.