Thursday, 9 February 2012

Some Notes on Writing Practice

Just thought I would share the bones of a handout I am making for my writing class as we are looking at writing practice...

Some Notes on Writing Practice

Why do you write?

For money/fame
To understand yourself better

All valid reasons (and you may have others) – although if you are writing purely for money or fame it’s probably best to turn back now before you are too disappointed (or send for the formula of how to write a Mills and Boon) because although some authors do attain these things through their writing, most don’t.

When do you write?

With the best intention in the world most of us find it hard to actually sit and down and get on with writing. My writing comes in flurries – I will have weeks where I write a lot and weeks where I write very little, but if I’m not careful those times where I write very little could stretch out into weeks and even months. Writing is a practice, and like cleaning your teeth you need to make yourself get into the habit of doing it.

Creative Starting Points

Classes and workshops - these are great for learning your craft, generating new ideas, getting feedback and generally making you write, but to continue developing as a writer you need to be writing and editing outside of your class too.

Reading - many budding writers are scared of reading in case it influences their work, but I cannot emphasise enough how vital reading is to the writer: especially the developing writer. You wouldn’t expect to be able to learn saddle-making without looking at other saddles and seeing how they are constructed, so why would you expect to be able to write poetry or novels without studying some finely crafted examples?  Theodore Deppe says in Worsmithery that “Poems are called into existence by other poems.” Imitation is the best way of learning. Read as a writer, if you like (or dislike) a poem ask yourself why you like it, and what can you learn from it. Read widely: poetry, prose, non-fiction, old and new.

Morning pages or journals – this is a type of reflective writing. It is best done in the morning if before your editing mind has time to kick in. Write two or three A4 pages of free writing – anything that comes – don’t edit, just go with it. Write with the assumption and intention that no one else will read it - there is no right or wrong way to do it. My morning pages vary hugely. If you looked through my journals you would find lists, affirmations, poetry, bits of stories, moans, critical writing, shopping and to-do lists, reviews – all sorts.

This type of writing has several effects: it frees you from brain loops (somehow the act of writing something down frees your brain from going over and over it), it makes you look at important issues, it puts you in touch with what matters to you and what you are interested in. Somehow the act of getting the small stuff out of your brain and onto paper has the knock-on effect of freeing up the creative process. No one can really explain why morning pages work but they do and many successful writers and creatives use them.

·         If you find the idea of several pages too daunting then build up to it gradually. You can start with a couple of sentences a day and go from there.

Trips and outings to galleries, museums and inspiring places - Julia Cameron calls this “filling your creative well.”  When I feel creatively blocked I go on a river trip or train journey or visit a gallery. Do whatever inspires you – read a book, go to the cinema, go for a walk. “Creativity, of any kind, doesn’t occur in a vacuum. There’s no creative output without some creative input, so don’t neglect to nurture your inner artist. Give that creativity something to feed on.” (Erin Riker)

Write things down – sounds simple but is a stumbling block for many beginners. If you see or hear something interesting or you have the germ of an idea WRITE IT DOWN! You may think you will remember it later, but in reality most of don’t. We live in a busy world where things are happening around us all the time – if a great line or idea pops into your head write it down as soon as you can.

Think about why you are writing in your chosen form – “The best writing can involve the biggest risk, so perhaps you should attempt the discipline that causes you the most problems because then you will be most fully engaged, and most surprised when something goes well.” (William Herbert in Wordsmithery, Palgrave, 2007)

“poetry is like taking a still photograph, whereas prose is like filming with a movie camera” (Paul Auster, a novelist who started life as a poet)

“The poet wants everything, as many meanings as possible, to happen at once; the prose writer wants everything to happen in the best possible order.” (William Herbert)

Don’t over-plan – especially in poetry – a poem is exciting when it takes an unexpected turn, and often that turn is as unexpected for the writer as it is for the reader. Take your idea and see where it takes you, you might be surprised. If you already know exactly what you want to say then the poem will not be surprising.

Don’t be afraid of editing  - editing is your friend, although it’s often hard to make yourself do it. Editing can make a good poem great.  A common mistake amongst budding writers is to think that everything that they write is perfectly formed and that editing will compromise the works artistic integrity.  Fine – but it is extremely rare to read a writer that would not benefit from some editing.  If you want your poetry to move beyond your notebook and into the world beyond you need to be prepared to edit and workshop your work.

Once you have followed an idea to its conclusion leave it alone for a while.  Come back to it later with a fresh mind and a fresh eye. Have you said too much or too little? 

“Most good writing is concise…Here’s your chance to delete unnecessary words, find one precise image to replace a clutter of abstractions, and remove anything that can be taken out without loss to meaning or overall effect of the poem…There is usually room for compression even in an advanced poem." (Theodore Deppe)