Got a Writing Block?

writing book for childrenLook what I found amongst the books at the local fete.  Okay, it’s published as a children’s book, but we don’t have to notice that.  Look at the first paragraph:

Have you ever wondered how to start a story or what to write next?  This book will help you.

See that ‘you’ ?  It could include adults too.

‘That’s all very well,’ I hear you say, ‘if we’re writing for children.  I’m aiming for an adult audience.’

Don’t fool yourselves folks, if we’re all reading the same seven stories, (hello, is that another echo of Aristotle?) we’re all writing them too.

This book provides a series of busy people-pictures plus guided questions.  And yes, they are child-like illustrations, but what happens if you describe the events from an adult pov*?  The language you use, your understanding of events, and your responses, all affect the kind of story you will write.

On the other hand, if you’re feeling inhibited about making imaginative leaps, writing for children could provide you with a challenging stretch.  Think adventure, and the language of ‘let’s pretend’, then look at each picture as a frozen moment, and imagine what will happen next…

The golden rule is, no cutting corners, create your logic and follow it through to a feasible conclusion that doesn’t explain everything by saying, ‘and then he woke up’.

*Point-of-view.

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Ringing bells and not just whistling Dixie.

Last week I accidentally discovered how to ‘like’ comments that are left on my blog. I’m not sure how long this facility has been available, though for several months  I’ve had likes from other bloggers so for sanity’s sake, please don’t tell me.

I’d looked, in what I considered to be logical places, for a ‘like-button’.  I’m not sure my school bellbrain is wired for technological logic, because when I didn’t easily find it, I assumed that the other bloggers were subscribing to a more sophisticated version of WordPress and gave up.

I should have checked the help page, of course, or asked on some forum.  Except that takes time, and in the bigger scheme of things, does it matter if I’m not quite au fait with all the bells and whistles?

WhistlesI’ve thought about that.  I’ve been feeling uncomfortably bad-mannered over not returning greetings.  I’m glad to get responses, so I’m sure you appreciate some recognition too.

Besides I like the etiquette of blogging, that ether-level connection I have with other people posting from all sorts of exotic and local places.  It feels like a meeting of minds to connect with the words, and occasional pictures you post.  I want to get it right.

I’m like that about stories, but I give time to my reading and writing.  I study those bells and whistles, figuring out how they function, and seeing how I can apply them.

I suppose I’ve been thinking of this blog as being part of that creative process.  Not only because committing to a Monday morning post provides me with a weekly deadline, there’s also the challenge of finding my subject, then composing and editing it.  These things feel like good practice for a woman who already has too many hobbies and ambitions that are firmly fixed on wordsmithing.

Chersonesos' BellSo I’m not making any rash promises about exploring all the gizmos of the blog world.  I’ll only ask for your patience if I’m a little slow on the up-take.  Sometimes, it takes me a while to catch up with the rest ofwhistle poster the internet community.

 

 

 

 

 

The writing tight-rope

Here’s something that I believe: the best stories are written from the heart.  But what does that mean?

tight rope 1Statements like that are tricky generalisations.  Do I mean that writers should always have an important message to deliver?  No, and no again.  Save me from fictional lectures, please.  That’s a blog post for another week.

What I mean by heart are stories that are rounded in the way that E.M. Forster said good main characters should be.  To read them is to exist within their reality , and when I’m writing, that’s what I aim to achieve.

Transporting someone into my fictional world is a tall order, so like most other writers, I’m always looking for the best way to do that. One method most of us try at some point is to draw from our life experiences: it fits with the principle of “writing what we know”.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Well Hilary Mantel’s take on this is worth considering:

I have sat, at moments of purest heartbreak, in mental agony, and put my thoughts on paper, and then I have taken those thoughts and allocated them to one of my characters, largely for comic effect.

The heart, she seems to be saying, should not always translate directly onto the publictight rope page.

I take the warning.  I’ve dusted off an old diary and am seeing for myself that feelings at their purest, or rawest, tend to generate ‘purple’ prose, or poetry, with plenty of comic potential.  At the time it was a form of therapy, now it’s something I could transform: I can see segments that would help to round-out my imaginative writing.

It’s good to think that some of that energy might be used constructively after all.

 

 

 

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The Milliner’s Tale

The last few weeks I’ve been alternating between two hats.  For my reading group, I’m wearing a morphing, anarchic design, that has me flying through The Once and Future King.

Steampunk_Hat_PNG_Clipart_PictureI’ve been enjoying the way White plays with history, rippling time so that events shift in and out of period, and juggles with our ideas about the characters who make up the Arthurian Legends.  I’m so comfortable with my head-gear that once donned, I forget I’m wearing it.

Like any extreme fashionista, I am a devoted follower of my latest mode.  So for a moment I’m taken aback when some of the group say that they find TH Ladies-Steampunk-Hats by tag hatsWhite’s use of anachronism distracting.

This gives us some interesting discussion on techniques for reading texts that challenge us, and sets me thinking about writing intentions.  The explanation White gave to his friend was:

I am trying to write of an imaginary world which was imagined in the 15th century. .. I state quite explicitly that we all know that Arthur, and not Edward, was on the throne in the latter half of the 15th century, at the beginning of my second vol. .. By that deliberate statement of an untruth I make it clear to any scholar who may read the book that I am writing, as I said before, of an imaginary world imagined in the 15th cent. .. I am taking 15th cent. as a provisional forward limit (except where magic or serious humour is concerned…

Malory and I are both dreaming. We care very little for exact dates, and he says I am to tell you I am after the spirit of Morte d’Arthur (just as he was after the spirit of those sources collected) seen through the eyes of 1939. He looked through 1489 .. and got a lot of 1489 muddled up with the sources. I am looking through 1939 at 1489 itself looking backwards.

Got that?

The idea that the past informs about the present can take a little getting used to, especially if you are someone who cares for exact dates.  When I put my Life-Writing-Hat on, I have to care, and yet, looking around, it seems to me that few of us live exactly within our time.  The things we use, wear, own and live with belong in variations to past days, weeks, months and years, even if we don’t live in historic houses.

It seems to me that reading history always requires some imaginative leaps.  Usually we do that from a present-day perspective.  What White does is to reverse this process, to comic effect, but also as an attempt at helping us understand something of what that past culture was like.  How do you set a story in medieval England without long explanations?  You translate every experience into a language children can recognise.

So I’m thinking of ways to translate dates and names into shareable texts, and what I see is that sometimes it takes an imaginative approach to explore truths.  After all, wouldn’t we all rather have a designer hat, that’s maybe a little shocking, than something mass-produced?hats

 

*Steam-punk hat photos from pin interest & Tag Hats.

 

Thoughts from inside the time capsule…

We had a guided tour of the local archives this week.  It’s one thing to use the search room, and tap into the expertise of the staff who patiently help us unravel our lines of research, quite another to be given a tour of the store-rooms that support that.

I usually go in with a list of prepared questions, and though I often find my ideas morphing into new areas, they’re always linked to my original enquiry.  Monday, I got a glimpse of the archivists archives, which meant not just a better understanding of how much material is held, and the practical aspects of storage, we were shown some of the backroom favourites from the collections.

ink damage to document

Photo – NEDCC: Paper Conservation Centre, USA

This meant stories, and lots of them.  Some were about the origins of the artefacts, others about the finding or donating of them.  What stood out for me?  A document fragment that is kept between two pieces of Perspex.  It looks like any other old piece of writing, until you hold the page up to the light – and see how, with age, the ink has become so acidic that it is dissolving the paper.  The top rows of words are perforations, and if the page hadn’t been protected by the Perspex, the slightest touch would have caused it to disintegrate.

 

Back in the days before biro pens, or bottles of Quink  or even Swan Ink, people wanting to write cut pens from goose quills or reeds, and made ink by mixed crushed oak galls and iron pyrite in wine or vinegar, which seems to have been fine on parchment, but then paper was developed.

deskIt took time for the problem with the ink to be discovered, and not all documents suffer in the same way.  The damage depends on how much the colour has been watered down.

ink-corrosion travelingscriptorium photo

Photo – NEDCC: Paper Conservation Centre, USA

 

 

This leads me to two strands of thought, first is the reminder about writing on the backs of photos in soft pencil rather than biro – aargh, if only I’d known that years ago.

The other is the permanence or otherwise of our wise words.  I keep hearing how everything we put on the net is there to stay.  Some say this as a warning, others with a sense of wonder.

Perhaps they’re right, but is it too early to tell yet?