Tag Archives: writing techniques

Cautious Creativity

A continuing discussion between writers, would-be writers and non-writers is whether you wait for inspiration to strike before picking up a pen or sitting down at a keyboard.

My approach has always been to think of creativity as a muscle and that it grows stronger with use. Just as preparing for a marathon starts with walking for five minutes on a treadmill, writing a novel, a story, a poem, starts with putting a word on a page and then several more and so on. I develop my creativity by ‘flexing’ it again and again. I mainly do this through various means:

I was, therefore, chuffed to hear the poet, the late Mary Oliver, say much the same but in a very different way. I was directed by a friend to the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett when she interviews Mary Oliver (https://onbeing.org/series/podcast/). In it Oliver talks about creativity being cautious and that a writer has to regularly turn up to meet their own until they gain creativity’s trust. It is only then that our creativity will blossom.

I have often written about giving permission, giving time, for creativity.

Even if you have no desire to write for an audience, there is a myriad of evidence which suggests creativity is good for us, for our well being (Lapidus). So there are many reasons for turning up regularly and gaining the trust of our creativity. Why not start with pledging an hour a week? Take a 20 minute walk, preferably somewhere in nature. On returning sit down with a large piece of plain paper and play with words, colours and putting marks on the paper for 30 minutes.

See where it takes you!

*** Those of a sensitive disposition may want to stop reading here ***

On a personal note, I have recently had a long awaited hysterectomy, necessary because of years of heavy bleeding, fibroids and anaemia in the run up to my menopause. My husband, who loves a fact, told me over 56,000 hysterectomies are carried out in the UK every year. I was wondering aloud to a friend, Ruth (ceramicist and artist: http://ruthcollett.co.uk/), what happens to all these wombs and (in my case) ovaries? She suggested they ended up in catawombs. Which got us laughing and me thinking. Below is the resultant collage of my very own catawomb. The stapling is significant. Farewell my womb.

One small step….

What with the anniversary of the first moon landing, we have all been reminded of the oft-quoted ‘One small step… one giant leap…’ It fits with the idea of the slightly cliched: every journey starts with the first step.

And every piece of writing starts with writing the first word (even if later that first word will be discarded or become the 10th or the 100th or the last). In recent weeks I have been in conversation with several people who are struggling with the next steps in their writing. When drilling into what is going on for them, it appears to boil down to two issues:

  • What will people think?
  • Being too fixated on the product and not enjoying the process.

These may be dressed up in any numbers of ways including thoughts such as: I’m not good enough; what’s the point of this; I haven’t enough time; I’m not a writer; I should be doing the cleaning (or any other soul-destroying job you can think of). Or perhaps actions which means that any writing/thinking time gets squeezed out by trying to meet the (supposed?) needs of others.

Once some literacy skills have been gained, writing isn’t hard. I mean it’s not hard in the way going down a mine is hard or trying to eek food from an unforgiving soil or climate. What more often than not gets in the way of our writing hand is our heads. I am not immune. I can get mired in fears of being found wanting or in trying to find a point to spending time writing (beyond the simple fact that I enjoy it).

And there are parts to writing which I enjoy less. Such as currently I am re-reading Drowning Not Waving, in preparation for getting ready for (self) publishing. This novel, the fourth in my Scarborough Mysteries series, has not had an easy gestation. Picked up and then unceremoniously dropped by an agent, there are parts of it which I feel I wrote to please her and do not entirely please me. However, I have a strong urge to get it finished and out there, so I can move on. Plus, I am very aware that I see every sinew in magnified detail while the majority of readers will barely skim the skin.

So my challenge is not to take the first step, but to keep going though the terrain may be getting uncomfortable. My method (should you choose to adopt it) is to break things down into palatable chunks, write them on a list and tick them off as I do them. I am half way through my ‘re-read and take notes on Drowning Not Waving.’ I am doing it an hour at a time with breaks in between for walking, swimming, eating, reading, seeing friends, yoga, playing tennis….

It is perhaps a harsh reality that most of what most of us write – most of what we tear from the cavities of our hearts and commit to paper – will not be read in any great detail (if at all) nor appreciated much. Shed a tear for this and then think, wow what freedom this gives me. I can write to please myself! How joyous is that?

I have just spent a week in Swanage. One of the things I most enjoyed was swimming in the bay, especially in the morning in the flat sun-rimed water, in sight of the Isle of Wight and Old Harry’s Rocks. It wasn’t easy to get in. The sea was chilly, there were sharp pebbles to be negotiated, but once I stopped hyperventilating and just let myself go, relaxing into the waves, it was glorious. Another metaphor, if you want one, for my writing method.

 

 

Midsummer Magic

It is the Summer Solstice. Yes it is! I always feel midsummer comes too early at these latitudes. I have barely got my shorts on. However, midsummer it is.

Why not give yourself permission to give your creative spirit some time to play and let the midsummer magic sink in.

Scarborough lighthouse at dawn. Mark Vesey 2019

If you haven’t read it already, take a moment to jump back to a previous post: https://bit.ly/2RqqBKn

Now look at these amazing photos – or maybe you have one of your own – and do some free writing.

Scarborough beach huts at dawn. Mark Vesey 2019

Write freely for about ten minutes. Perhaps leave it for a while (take a walk or do some breathing/stretching) then scan through and pick out five or six words, sentences or phrases which seem interesting. Spend 30 minutes playing around with these. Perhaps you will put them down the page like a poem, adding in other words/phrases as necessary. Perhaps you will see if they will lead you into a 100 word narrative which goes across the page.

It doesn’t matter what you end up with. The main thing is to play and enjoy.

If anyone does this and feels like doing so, feel free to put what you’ve done in a comment so it can appear below this post.

Thank you!

 

A Writer’s Toolkit: Reading


We read to escape, for pleasure, to learn something, to divert, but sometimes we read to meet ourselves. We read to have something in ourselves, in our experience, confirmed as acceptable. Or, at least, not so far beyond the possible as to be beyond the pale.

Many of us take up a writing journey to resolve things that, in the end, are un-resolvable. Possibly once we have realised they are un-resolvable, we will find acceptance. Reading another’s perspective or story can also bring us to view what is going with us in a different, perhaps more compassionate, way. Reading can be all encompassing.

Patricia Leavy, author of Handbook of Arts-Based Research (Guildford Press, 2019) suggests:
‘Research shows that reading fiction engages our entire brain, including some unexpected areas, such as those involved with movement and touch. We literally place ourselves in the stories we read, becoming immersed. There are activations in our brains for days after reading a novel, which is not the case with nonfiction prose.’

However, as writers we also read to develop ourselves and our craft. Read widely. Read actively. Don’t just think I enjoyed that (or not), ask what makes it appealing (or not) to me. Look for techniques which we may want to bring into our own writing. I’m not advocating plagiarism here. As with walking, we may all take the same path, but we will all experience it and talk about it in different ways. With writing, if we allow the means and the subject matter to be mediated through our self, then using similar methods to other writers will still result in a unique piece.

So essential items in a writer’s toolbox are: a library card, a shelf full of books and a community within which books can be leant and borrowed.

 

Update


My own writing projects continue to progress. I have pulled together my thoughts on writing, walking and memoir into a non-fiction piece and am waiting to see how I might develop that into something I could share with an audience. The short stories I discovered in embryonic state in my writing journals are drafted and are out with readers for comments.

 

 

 

 

I have completed Drowning Not Waving, the fourth in my Scarborough Mysteries series. It has been with a literary agent since the beginning of 2018. Initially she said she loved it and she enthusiastically talked to me over the phone, asking me to do some re-writes which I did before re-submitting it to her. On October 31st 2018 she said she would definitely get back to me with a definitive answer within the week. That is the last I have heard from her.

While all this has been going on, I have completed the fifth in the series, No Justice. I am currently at the re-writing/editing stage and hope to be able to indie publish both as one volume by the end of this year.


 

Guest Post: Delighting in Notebooks by Glynis Charlton

How many notebooks do you have? Not the irresistible ones you’ve stroked in arty places and found yourself buying, only to leave them untouched because they were ‘too nice.’ No, I’m talking about the partially filled, slightly dog-eared variety, with random notes tucked inside, the ones you’ve promised yourself you’ll go back to?

 

I can’t tell you how many I have. Not because I’m being super-secretive, but because I stopped counting a long time ago. The answer would be embarrassing.

For a time, they lived in a big blue plastic box, then they began to nudge the lid open, so the others got piled up on top, until the pile was so precarious I was in danger of needing to invest in box number two. But would that be an investment? Surely it would be akin to procrastination and, as I know only too well, I don’t need to hone my skills in that department.

What needed to be done, I decided, was to attack each notebook in turn. Type stuff up, put it into orderly digital categories, use some kind of code or sticker in the notebook to show what had been dealt with. This would then allow me – ooh, two or three months down the line – to select various drafts from the orderly files on my laptop, refine pieces that particularly called to me, and submit them to appropriate places from an impeccable spreadsheet based on focussed research. That was three years ago.

Don’t get me wrong – I did make a start (thanks to a boring tale involving medication that gives me a bonus half hour before breakfast). But it was just taking too long. I was, as my mother always loved to tell me, ‘at the back of the queue when they were handing out patience.’ I grew dispirited, annoyed with myself. At this rate, it could take me years to type everything up before I even began to develop or edit any of it. There was an amalgamation of pieces drafted in cafés, on trains, planes, at Lapidus days, workshops, masterclasses, and yes – for goodness’ sake – even during residential weeks at Arvon. All just sitting there.

I don’t help myself by being fickle. Poetry? Ooh yes, I’ll take that piece I started at Simon Armitage’s masterclass, craft it until it’s as good as I can get. Or maybe I could try my hand at a radio script? I did go on that workshop run by Rachel Joyce, two or three years ago, I wrote that thing about someone in an accident … or maybe it was a hospital?

Inevitably, I reached the point, over porridge one morning, where I decided this bonus half hour would probably be much better spent working on The Novel (two, to be exact, but the first one makes me cringe). So, the notebooks were shelved for a while – literally – and out came the novel again. But that took so long to get my head back into it that I ended up doing neither. Instead, I reassured myself, oh so easily, that half an hour’s reading before breakfast would ‘inform’ my own writing, which of course was true up to a point. But actually, the real informing to be done was from Procrastinating Me to Writer Me. Now here’s a radical idea, I told myself, have you noticed there are actually another 23.5 hours in each day? I know, I know, said the other one, but take Leonardo da Vinci … I mean, he had treatise after treatise he never got round to writing up, all those fountains and statues never built. But he was Leonardo, Glynis: look what he did do. OK, fair point.

Plan B – or C or D or whatever it is by now – is to go through each notebook as originally planned, but this time just type up the pieces that really pull me. The ones where I’ve put a big tick by the side or scrawled ‘do something with this.’

Meanwhile, I’ve discovered Tim Clare’s online Couch to 80K Bootcamp, so I make sure I do at least one of his short exercises every day. Why do we find it so much easier when it’s someone other than ourselves urging us to spend just ten minutes to do something that, let’s be honest, we actually enjoy doing once we get down to it?

I find setting a timer works. So too does shutting the rest of the notebooks out of site and being systematic. OK, so you’re not a great Renaissance genius, but you might just find a tiny nugget in that wobbling pile of notebooks that’s worth sharing.

 

Glynis Charlton [www.glynischarlton.com] is a poet and fiction writer whose work has been published in several anthologies. Her poetry was Highly Commended for the Bridport Prize 2016 and she is currently working on two novels. Glynis has also scripted a film short, screened at Leeds International Film Festival, and another screened on BBC1. She works freelance and has been running workshops in Yorkshire for many years and also runs an autumn writing retreat on a tiny Italian island [www.italianwritingretreat.org]

 

 

Guest Post: Some Thoughts on Form by Sue Wilson

If I had the luxury of writing a PhD, I would like to research the idea of what drives artists in their particular direction. 

In my musings, often when I am looking at a blank page, I wonder why it is that I must write poetry. Which then leads me off into other realms. Why does one writer write plays and another short stories? What drives an artist to make ceramics, or do a screen print, a collage, a mural, or paint in oils on large canvasses? I have no answer to these questions, but I would love to see a research project that focussed on the psychology of the creative drive. 

Myself I write poetry. It is at the core of my being, I am unable to stop producing poetry, admittedly of variable quality. And yet at no time in my life have I been able to see my writing, my very essence, as a means to generate income. It sustains my soul, but I have never exploited it to sustain my body. And like the visual artist who specialises in a particular form of their craft, I don’t just write poems. I write poems that follow precise form. I have written haiku, sestinas, sonnets, ballads, and the glorious villanelle. 

My faith in my work has ebbed and flowed over the years. Many times I have listened to critics who do not like form. Critics who have no respect for a structured rhyming scheme. And I have felt belittled and unworthy. At these times I have written poetry that does not adhere to specific form, and I have felt unsatisfied. 

Currently I am feeling strong. At the wrong side of 65 I feel it is time to accept who I am and what I write. Form brings me joy. Form brings me satisfaction. Form brings me a sense of great admiration for the writer who has clung to the coat tails of their belief in their own art. And so now, without apology, I have launched myself into a new venture. I am writing a series of Villanelles. I aim to write fifty in a year. I have no plans for publication. This is a challenge and a goal I have set myself, simply because I need to, and because I can. 

So, here is a Villanelle I wrote last month, whilst walking in the cemetery with my dogs. We came upon a small, fragile bird’s skull, and it took me straight back to the days when my children were small, in particular my youngest, now 30, and about to join the naval medical corps

Skull

In the cemetery we found a skull,
Its beak still intact, we thought it must be
a seabird, maybe, or a herring gull.

Lifting it gently by the mandible
you kissed and caressed it tenderly.
In the cemetery we found a skull:

bone-white fragility a tangible
early encounter with mortality.
A seabird, maybe, or a herring gull

had come to grief. Its span ephemeral
in that long, hot summer when you were three,
and in the cemetery found a skull.

You took it with you in your carryall
the year you left for university.
Was it a seabird? Or a herring gull?

Boy and skull; you were inseparable.
With hindsight it was unmistakably
a seabird. Certainly a herring gull.
In the cemetery we found a skull.

Sue Wilson, February 2019

 

Sue Wilson lives in Scarborough having retired there after a long career in the caring professions. She was a Probation Officer and an Addictions Counsellor. When not writing poetry she can be found walking her two Trailhounds, Norah and Doris, by the sea, and thinking about the poetry she’s read, and the poetry she’s writing. When not walking she will be in the swimming pool, another great environment for thinking about metre and rhythm. Her body is sustained by copious amounts of vegan food. In 2017 she maintained a Facebook page “The Ginger Vegan Baker” where she published an original vegan recipe every day for a year. Each recipe was accompanied by step by step photography, and, of course, photos of her dogs.

Common Scoter: North Shore, 3rd September 2010

by Jane Poulton

a five oʹclock south-east breeze sweeps north shore
cooling the front to twenty one degrees
      uncurling strands of cirrus pass
      and wave crests break in glassy foam
      as the wandering crowds swarm
      waiting

on the sands beyond the pier and winter gardens
a
bird breaks his silence  pew pew pew  he calls to a man
in a voice like liquid air distilled  talk with me
     dumbstruck
     the man replies in broken breaths
     enchanted

twenty notes in twenty seconds is all the bird can spare
before returning to his flock to change his coat
from powder black to shining black
glossed violet-blue and green
     and tonight the man will brag about his matchless talent
     flirting over oysters with a tower ballroom dancing queen

looking back I wonder if
the calling bird saw the goldwings glow at dusk
or the evening star break the west-south-west horizon
or the waning crescent moon waxing in the mirror ball
or if he flinched as the switch was flicked at nine
and the town was set alight or if he heard the cheers
or guessed that many childhood years had passed
waiting for dark nights such as this
when the promenade would pulse with paintpot lights
and we could ride wide-eyed on spangled trams rattling
through the gaudy razzle-dazzle

 

Common Scoter from http://www.rspb.org.uk

This beautiful poem, Common Scoter: North Shore, 3rd September 2010,  is one of the 67 poems in Watch the Birdie, an anthology published by Beautiful Dragons. Each poem is dedicated to one of the birds on the RSPB’s Red List of the UK’s most endangered species.

Where to get the Book: All profits from Watch the Birdie will go to the RSPB.  Copies can be purchased directly from Beautiful Dragons: https://beautifuldragons.net/price-list

Here the poet of Common Scoter: North Shore, 3rd September 2010, Jane Poulton, explains the making of her poem:

My work on the poem began with wide-ranging research that revealed serendipitous coincidences that would determine its form and content. 

One of the main wintering grounds of the Common Scoter (Melanitta Nigra) is Shell Flat, a sandbank off the coast of Blackpool’s North Shore.  Shell Flat was once the proposed site for a large wind farm development by Cirrus Energy.  The project was cancelled in 2008, partly due to concerns about its impact on the Common Scoter population. 

I found a short recording of the bird, made at North Shore at 5pm on 3rd September 2010—which also happened to be the date of the annual switch-on of the Blackpool Illuminations at 9pm that evening. Prior to the switch-on, the crowds had been treated to an additional light-show spectacle—a parade of Honda Gold Wing motorcycles, decorated in fairy lights, driving slowly in convoy along the promenade. 

With further research, I was able to establish the weather and sea conditions at the time of the recording, and which stars and planets would have been present in the northern sky.

The poem contains official technical descriptors about the bird, the sea and the weather, which I enjoyed for their slight awkwardness and chose to let stand as ‘found’ words and phrases.  The poem is divided into two parts.  The first is about the bird, the recording of its call, the recorder of it, the prevailing weather and sea conditions, and the pre-switch-on atmosphere of the town.  The second part begins with a personal speculation about the bird, leading to a recollection of annual childhood visits to see The Lights, for which my anticipation and delight never waned.

A footnote for those who don’t know it.  Some people ‘get’ Blackpool and others just don’t.  It’s a traditional seaside holiday resort on the north-west coast of England; colourful, loud, brazenand famous for its annual Illuminations.  Strings of coloured lights and illuminated, animated tableaux run along The Prom (the coast road) for 8km, from Starr Gate in the south to Bispham in the north.  Much speculation and excitement surround the ‘switch-on’ and the matter of who will push the button.  Once lit, the Illuminations shine brightly each night between dusk and late evening from September to November.  Since 19th September 1879, when 8 arc lamps lit up the promenade with “artificial sunshine”, ‘The Lights’ have become a much-loved, major tourist attraction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yceBTuCqBos

Biog of Jane Poulton
As a child, I loved words and drawing.  I eventually chose to study Textiles, but never stopped ‘playing’ with words.  I have earned my living through visual art and design, and only began to write seriously after moving from Manchester to North Yorkshire.  Here, the scope of my writing has expanded and I have become braver with words.  The sea and the landscape, the dark skies and weather patterns—the enormous wonder of it all and our place in the universe—are irresistible influencers.  

http://www.janepoulton.co.uk/

http://sitematerialobject.com/