Free-writing part 3

With a stunning lack of foresight, last spring, when I was arranging my autumn term, I set myself up with four classes that would each be discussing different novels in the same weeks.  Consequently, I’ve recently been on a readathon, and my writing time has been squashed into snatched fragments.

book pileAt least most of my brain space has been taken up with some excellent literature.  How could I have forgotten how brilliant Tolstoy was?  Meanwhile, I’ve been discovering new joys – particularly Dorothy L. Sayers.  Re-reading her carefully, as I prepare class notes, opens up all sorts of literary trails.  I shall definitely be looking at some of her other novels again.

I’m about half-way through Arnold Bennett’s Old Wives Tales with one group, and reminding myself that he is not so dusty as he’s sometimes painted; while nearing the end of Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at The Museum with another.  It’s been a fascinating autumn, but hectic.

So given only an occasional five minutes writing time, I decided the best use I could make of that space was to take my own often offered advice, and free-write.  The result is a satisfyingly expanding notebook.

These jottings are intended as rough drafts: a collection of words I might ‘mine’ for ideastimer at a later date.  No sense intended, only a fancy to free myself from the restrictions of preparing reading groups.    I set the clock for five minutes then let my pen lead the way.

Describing the process is always challenging, so I’ve decided this week to share one of my quicker fragments.

She would always want the things that he told her were unobtainable belonging to worlds that had not yet visited the western leaning curves and when the dog left home without her nothing would stay where it was but electricity sang when the moon rose and bloomed in delightful sequences of song that lifted lifetimes from their shoulders the past disappeared and gravity took years from their faces because the long winded clock gave up they were free, see the sea, shallowing and delightful, played with her ankles drawing her deeper towards a world she had never imagined.

If you’re wondering what I might do with this, I’m not sure yet.

On a previous post, Random ramblings that work I’ve gathered some thoughts on the benefits of using time in this way.

If you’ve never tried free-writing, and would like to have a go, I’ve put a recipe on Writing Blocks – strategy 2.

Finding the right story-strand.

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the obvious.  As one of those tutors who likes to stress the importance of re-drafting, this week I was forced to think about what I do when I came across this Phillip Pulman quote:

I don’t agree with the emphasis that teachers lay on drafting.  I never write drafts – I write final versions.  I might write a dozen final versions of the same story, but with each one I set out to write it as a final version.

Is this a good point?

I agree that we should aim for excellence in all our drafts, and intend them to be flawless.  But, I’m not sure that this approach is encouraging to the less experienced writer.

In my own case, one of the most liberating discoveries I made was that great writing is usually achieved through a process of re-draftings.  George Eliot’s notebooks of Middlemarch, scribbled over with extra ideas and corrections, were reassuring. I can’t say whether she thought of them as drafts or final versions, what I needed to understand, was that she re-worked her writing.

Most good writers do the same.  We just don’t always have evidence of that available.

I share this revelation with my writing groups, because too many people doubt their abilities if they don’t create a flawless and beautiful piece of writing at the first try.

On the other hand, when drafting there are times when it feels as if I’m wandering in theSpiderinwebL_tcm4-571483 midst of a labyrinth, and Ariadne hasn’t just supplied me with a single story thread, I’ve got a fist full of possible routes.  Pulman’s suggestion offers a sensible solution: stop dithering, go back to the beginning and start again.

Sounds like a reworking of the solution another spider offered to Robert the Bruce.  There’s never just the one rule in writing, it seems…


Thoughts on Blade Runner 2049

Blade runner 2049‘Anyway, I’m glad I saw it on the big screen, rather than the tv,’ Ray said.

‘Me too,’ I said.  ‘The special effects were spectacular.  But I don’t think I’d want to see it again.’

There was a pause, then Ray said, ‘The acting was good.’

‘Oh yes.  Very good.’

‘So what was wrong with it?’

‘Too similar to the original?’ I said. ‘I suppose it had to be, if it was going to pick up those threads of ending and take them further.’

‘Is that what you think it did, then?’ said Ray. ‘Take them further?’

‘I liked the game of spotting references to the original.’

‘But what about the story?  Was it too contrived?’

‘Maybe we’re so loyal to that original that nothing could possibly follow it.’

‘No,’ Ray said,  ‘there was a problem somewhere.  They missed the mark. I think it was the time-frame.  We’ve got colonies on other worlds in thirty-two years time?  That just doesn’t work.’

‘Well that’s not their fault, though.  They had to stick with the dates, or the story wouldn’t work.  The problem was that the first film set the date as 2019, and we’re trying to impose fact onto something that is meant to be a warning.  It’s an alternative reality.’

blade runner 2049 3Three days later, and I’m still getting flashbacks from those film visuals.  That landscape in shades of grey; the dark city extending into an even darker infinity, and the swirling, dust laden acres of waste-dumps feel close as I take Rusty for his morning walk across the fields.

These mornings the birds are too busy gathering autumn breakfasts to sing.  Is that why I think I hear that haunting, and rather beautiful, Blade Runner theme tune?

It seems, after all, that I may need to watch this film again.

Are you a writer?

Now there’s a leading question.

Many of us are shy about claiming that title.  Well, read on for a thought-provoking quote from Raymond Soltysek, writer, and tutor.

 There are many people who keep their writing in a desk drawer, determined that no one will see their work.  This should not be trivialized, but celebrated, since what they do fulfils some intellectual, personal or psychological need; the writing makes the person who writes feel more self aware, or at peace, or just better.  However, becoming a writer means publishing.  Of course, I do not mean in the narrow sense of having work printed in a magazine or a volume, but in the much wider sense of sharing the work with an audience, and, even more so, being prepared to take into account the reaction of that audience.  The person who writes and who then gives his or her work to a friend and says “what do you think?”, and who is prepared to listen and to defend or revise as appropriate, is a writer.

(From, Wind them up, let them go: The primacy of stimulus in the classroom.  Writing in Education, autumn 2009.)

Now I do see that if, so far, you’ve only shown your writing to family and friends you may feel unsure about launching yourself in the wider world as a writer.  It’s one of the things I remember discussing in my first year as an Imaginative Writing student, with our course leader, Edmund Cusick.

‘If you mean it, claim it,’ he said.  He believed that to think of ourselves as writers was to commit to the necessary processes for achieving that status.

typwriter advertI started out in a modest way, whispering it to myself.  I took it out into the world with me after university, and discovered he was right.  Owning the title ‘writer’ did help me to feel justified in putting aside time and space for writing and reading.

Sometimes I have only a few minutes of my day, on a corner of the kitchen table, to build stories.  But, these are the moments when I am a writer.  I know this because I’m concentrating on ordering the words in such a way that they create the meaning I want to share.

Just as importantly, my family know I’m a writer because they can see that it is what I’m doing, and I share the finished results with them.

If asked what I do for a living, I say, ‘I’m a tutor,’ because that’s what pays my bills.  It’s not the whole story though.  At various times I also garden, cook, read, dream, and clean the house. These are not paid roles, though most of them could be.  At the moments when I’m doing them, I do think of myself as a gardener, cook, dreamer and housekeeper.

There is no reason why, being able to assume all those and other different roles, I should hesitate to describe myself as a writer.  I mean it, and I claim it.