Sunday 30 January 2011

Motivation and self-imposed deadlines

I was talking to a writer friend earlier in the week about how one can keep oneself motivated post MA. I am finding that my writing, but more especially my editing, has become sporadic now that I don't have deadlines to write for. I guess that one answer would be to set my own deadlines, but I know from experience that I don't adhere to my own deadlines in the same way - I thrive under that outside pressure, it gives me that extra push to work on my poems that bit harder.  I am also quite slack about submitting work to journals and competitions  - yet I know that this is the way to get your work known, it doesn't make sense. Last year I used the excuse of not having enough money as I was a student - yet I am still hardly submitting, I need to sort it out. My friend said that he is the same, he will have a flurry of sending stuff off and then not send any for a while - he thought maybe it was to do with rejection, and he could be right. Rejection is something that as emerging writers we have to learn to live with but it can be hard sometimes.

On a more positive note I have had had two websites ask if they can use my poems this week. I was flattered and although they weren't offering money I said yes. It is just good to get the work out there. As sci-fi writer Cory Doctorow says "an artist's enemy is obscurity..."

Wednesday 26 January 2011

The making of good prose

I have been reading quite a few novels recently and have found myself wondering - do poets make better prose writers?  I can't help but read prose with a poet's eye for detail and because of this I am keenly aware of mistakes, mixed metaphors and unintentional repetitions - things that you would never get away with in (good) poetry. It seems that one can be more sloppy in prose writing.

I am currently reading "Double Vision" by Pat Barker. It is not a bad book although I would not call it literary, the story is compelling but I feel that it could have been better edited.  There are repetitions of description  - for example she uses the metaphor of fire to describe the way light falls on snow or ice, the first time it was fresh and original but she uses it three times in as many pages.  There are also other annoying little niggles - most of the time the characters either drink coffee or whiskey whatever the time of night or day - this seemed unrealistic to me, not many people roused in the night by nightmares would choose coffee as their drink of choice.

This may be nitpicking and it could be that being so successful means that Barker is less rigorously edited by other people - a criticism which is often levelled at J.K. Rowling. But it made me think about the books I come back to again and again because not only are they good stories but they are well written, and I realised that most of the authors I love are also poets (Louise Erdrich, Anne Michaels, Paul Auster, Mervyn Peake). As a poet the economy of words used means that you have to be more rigorous with your editing - there is no choice, so it follows that this would also apply to your prose writing. However I also find that fiction writers who are also poets use language in fresh and original ways. That's not to say that there aren't fresh and original prose writers because of course there are.

This led me to look at what I as a reader want from a book. What makes a book great for me is if I am moved by both the story and the writing. With Pat Barker's book the story is moving but the writing itself is not. Maybe I am greedy but I want both, I want the prose to have that indefinable quality that makes it memorable and makes me want to read it again.