I couldn’t let this moment pass without a tip of the hat towards National Poetry Day. As previously mentioned on this blog, I’m semi-regular at a writing group in Second Life, and it forces me to churn out something in 20 minutes. Sometimes, with a little polishing, I’m reasonably content with these.
There’s this pebble that makes me feel small
But I can hold it in my palm
Broken, sheerly like a miniature cliff
Inlaid with lines, pencil fine
By spirit-level silty seas, advancing, retiring, layering
Then squeezed, tectonic tight
Then baked in earth’s belly and uncovered
By archaeologist’s brushes of
Wind and water
Shorn by ice and rolled in the tide
It’s just those lines, no thicker than a fingernail
Each a few thousand years deep
That make me feel
In accents deep set or bulging, narrow or wide, turned up or down
With lumen whites for a larynx, elastic lids for vocal cords
Blinking like a cursor
Pupil and iris for tongue and teeth
Punctuation marks, up or down at the end of sentences
Or hovering for emphasis
In accents fine or rough, round and knobbled, flecked like bark
Or medieval tones of lily white
They have ten inflections, each topped by a nail
Their salute is mightier than the sword
Speaking without boundaries of language
Forceful words seldom misinterpreted
They even vote and carry on political campaigns
With the whole entourage of body
All at once achatter
So, I recently found a great website. I think that’s a rare event. More than half my time online is spent sifting irrelevant information and wincing at bad copy. I don’t say that to set myself up as a discerning arbiter of good taste – I do as much wincing when reading back over this blog as anywhere else.
Provide a medium for freethinking individuals to connect & discuss
Compel you to follow your bliss & make a life, not a career
Explore all aspects of the human condition
Question anything & everything that is considered ‘normal’
Promote the general spread of happiness and love
That sounds like an invitation for every crackpot theorist to dive in and fill our screens with the kind of misspelled and vacuous user-generated content that we spend our lives clicking away from. But, like Reddit, HE has an upvoting system for posted items, and it works. Plus, it looks like a bit of vetting goes on before you become a contributor (known as a HEthen).
The platform seems to have become a good place for reading about folks who are taking an experimental approach to life, with themselves as the lab-rats. That’s the kind of stuff I can’t stay away from because, just like everyone else adventuring on the seas of post post-modernity, I’m always obsessing over the grand question of ‘how to live’.
Anyway, there was an article there titled “The Complete Guide to Not Giving a Fu@!<“. I thought, “I’m going to read this but I’ll not be sharing it with my network because it has swears in it.” In one sense the article is a shameless tid-bit of click-bait, but I found, for once, I didn’t click away with a sense of “there’s five minutes of my life I’ll never get back”.
It wasn’t the content (generic self-help chat you’ve probably heard before) that kept me reading , it was the style.
I’ve seen stuff a bit like it before. You might describe it as “true voice”, a little bit “stream of consciousness”. On the surface that’s exactly the type of rubbish I want to sift out. I get hired to straighten out people’s words, and I sometimes feel I’m in a lonely battle to get the world to, you know … use sentences.
However, I have to admit to noticing that the stuff that gets upvoted and read is seldom written in proper sentences and often commits grammar crimes.
I’ve seen it in countless non-fiction bestsellers on Kindle too. It’s a conversational, ‘true voice’ chat style that could easily have been written in an afternoon by somebody using voice recognition software as they drove in their car, or lounged in the bath.
There are still plenty of inane anecdotes and rambling passages of thought out there. I mean, when will cookery bloggers learn that I’m there for the recipe and I’m skipping the six paragraphs where you gush about when and where you first tasted this dish and how delicious it was, and where your quest for the perfect ingredients took you next?
I’m not talking about that. But there really is a place for the uber-conversational style, when a writer really has something to say. In fact, it’s more engaging.
I’ve been on a bit of a journey in this blog’s five-year lifespan. The way I read and write now has changed, but I still cling to a more ‘literary’ feel on here.
I’ve blogged far less in the last couple of years. I think this is because:
having a sense of the blog as a ‘shop window’ has limited what I dare to put in it
writing it has started to feel too much like work
I’ve been very busy
it feels like I’m in a rut with my writing style here and I’m bored with my own voice
I’m overwhelmed with ideas for posts because I have too many interests
some of my energy is going into writing a book that is becoming a receptacle for a lot of what I’d probably be blogging about
So (and it’s okay to start a sentence with ‘so’) I’m hoping to shift things a bit and make posting more fun for me. Maybe this is a place where I can be a bit freer from the restraints of ‘professional’ writing.
Taking a leaf out of the ‘true-voice blogger’ book feels worth a try.
It’s time to break a few personal rules like this post does. Not only have I abandoned proper sentences but I’ve also posted one of those cringing self-conscious blog posts that ends up talking about the blog and what I’m going to write, instead of actually writing it.
Although this is supposed to be a ‘writers blog’ it tends to be a repository for the things I don’t write: the stuff I do when I should be writing. When I do find the time to actually do some writing (for myself), I often find all my brain wants to do is mess about and compose nonsense. I find this incredibly easy and profoundly satisfying.
Really, ‘nonsense’, of the sort that Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear gave us, leaves a much wider space for readers or listeners’ imaginations to play in. It harps upon this beautiful feature of human languages: with syntax, sound and context we are more than half way to understanding meaning. Who the hell needs vocabulary?
I have ‘artists envy’ for folks who seem to be able to finish stuff.
When it comes to creativity, I can go some way with the saying “It’s more about the journey than the destination,” but surely the full miracle of creative work is in that breathless moment when you can stand back and say, “It’s done.” That’s the elusive hit we’re really looking for. Something is not created until it’s completed and a thing, be it a sculpture, picture, story or performance, stands where before there was no thing.
I think some of us are scared to finish. As long as a work is in progress, it has the potential to be awesome. Once it’s done, it’s either awesome or not. I’m certainly scared to finish things. I trail so many works-in-progress, the drag can be crippling.
This week I’ve been rescued by a little thing called Six Minute Story. I wouldn’t have given it the time of day if not for the suggestion of one of those artists I envy, Xe Sands, who is such a sparkling enthusiast for creativity in general and words in particular that not going along with something she’s excited about would feel like telling a kid that she couldn’t have an ice cream.
Six Minute Story gives you a random writing prompt and a box in which you have just six minutes to write a story. And that’s it … If it doesn’t work out, you can hit refresh and try again.
It’s heady stuff. You go from nothing to done in less time than it takes to hang out the laundry. It’s helped me to write a few stand-alone bites that I’m moderately happy about and to experience repeatedly the breathless moment of “It’s done.”
Throughout September, Xe’s ‘Going Public Project‘, which propagates contributed recordings of literature from the public domain and creative commons, is showing off stuff from Six Minute Story. Anyone can get involved even if, like me, you thought writing prompts were twee and ‘flash fiction’ was not quite ‘proper’.
I’m pretty stoked because this week’s post features a snippet of Xe’s voice doing my words and frankly that’s another tick on my bucket list.
So, my writerly readers, go here to start your own six-minute adventure. Or go here to listen to this week’s offerings and find out more about the Going Public Six Minute Story September challenge.
Basically, it’s a writer’s pyramid scheme, blog-based chain letter, tasteful tag-fest thing. I’m one of three writers Rob’s asked to answer four questions about writing and the writing process.
It is hoped that this will entendril the blogging writersphere ecosystem with fruitful vines of interconnection, lead readers to discover new and lovely writers and give others an insight into what makes some of us tick.
Not only because Rob’s said nice things about me in his post but also because, in my opinion, he’s “one to watch” as he climbs steadily the ladder of latter-day bards, I really hope you hop back up the vine and check out his writing. I think it speaks for itself in a unique voice and it takes a lot make me think, as I do, “when that book comes out I’m buying it” whether the author is my friend or not.
1) What am I working on?
When I’m not writing for others, I’m mapping the terrain between my subconscious and conscious realities, my dreaming and waking worlds, and dredging up short stories as I go. These are broadcast semi-regularly as a podcast at Stories from the Borders of Sleep. They are stories for hearing rather than reading, so any book that may come from them in the future will be more of a spin-off than a substantial target met.
This is a long-term project. I intend to continue it until the twelfth of never and would be quite happy to let it be my life’s work. It provides a creative discipline through the need to continually bring out new material and is immensely satisfying as I know it goes straight to an audience that, my stats tell me, downloads on average a hundred stories a day.
Alongside that, and not a million miles removed from it, I’m working on a book that probably sits in the ‘self help’ section. Broadly, it’s about using different parts of the body as a way of connecting inner reflection with outward action. If that sounds too wooky, then it could alternatively be described as a book about anthropology and time management.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I honestly don’t know because, with perhaps one exception, I don’t really read the stuff that might be similar. The exception is that I have derived a lot from the works of George MacDonald. He occupies the high points of mythopoeic romance to which I can only aspire.
To feed myself, I study literary classics, folklore and history, watch TED talks and look for books in brooks and sermons in stones. I should probably be reading Paul Coehlo, Haruki Murakami, Susanna Clarke and Neil Gaiman, but I don’t have time.
3) Why do I write what I do?
It has always been the same motivation for me, that simple line from the screenplay of the film about CS Lewis, Shadowlands:
We read to know we are not alone.
Books have been my greatest comforters and companions in helping me make sense of this way between earth and heaven where we all have the temporary use of a body, a mind and some words. Therefore, put simply, “I write to let others know they are not alone either.”
4) How does my writing process work?
I need to work in long stretches of time so it only really happens when I have a few uninterrupted hours in the dead of night or the wee small hours. Saturday mornings are good, too.
I write standing up because I constantly need to fidget or walk away to calm down or let the kinks work out in my head.
Actually starting something is Mount Everest, everything after that is Cool Runnings (apart from editing, which is K2). Finishing something is a serious hit on my dopamine receptors.
I usually only need one or two ideas, the rest takes shape as I go along. So I might start just knowing I want to write about a couple of trees I saw with intertwined limbs. Then it’s just a case of letting my imagination play out and making sure I take notes and keep up.
That sounds easy but it takes quite a toll on me. I think I write in a trance – it’s a bit like getting drunk. I get elated, then I get hung over. Maybe a better answer to the previous question is just that I’m an addict.
And on to …
This is the bit where I tell you who to hop on to next … I’m still recruiting victims, but here’s my first:
When Justin first appeared in my life, I felt an immediate connection – although I suspect he has a gift for making most people feel like that. In spite of our very different backgrounds, our few conversations have got straight to the heart of the things that most interest me. We’re both multi-instrumentalists and we both love writing. We both see our creative calling as not fitting the box of one particular medium or art form although writing seems to be the brightest thread. We’re both gnawed by the great question of ‘where is home?’ as people who have been geographically adrift among cultures from an early age. We’re both intrigued by Japanese culture – although he has more of an inside track on that. He introduces himself very well and explains why he’s a ‘Vagabond at Peace’ in this blog post.
Justin describes himself as an ‘aspiring author’. That’s brave and honest. The title brackets him with millions of others who ‘hope to write a book some day’. The thing is, I think he just might be one of those who actually does. I dream with him that he’ll one day write the great Japanese novel. In the meantime he shows a flair for flash fiction, writes prolifically in search of his voice, studies English Literature at Durham University, has an eye for well-turned prose and an ear for a lyrical song.
Justin has recently restarted blogging (prompted by this post, in fact), and although there’s not a lot there yet, he’s definitely one to watch. You can literally watch him on YouTube and hear him on SoundCloud – but seriously … check him out!
I have an app that seems to be permanently open in my brain; maybe it is a monkey on a typewriter. Strings of letters constantly rearrange themselves and every so often a combination sticks and I have a new word in my head. I’ve tried to figure out what to do with these words.
Some of them have ended up in a story I wrote, about a “jellyfarglemarsh”, which you can listen to over at Stories from the Borders of Sleep. Others are being collected in a document on Draft (superb tool for distraction-free writing and collaboration invented by Nathan Kontny) until I find a use for them. As a writer, you always need new words for things.
The typewriting-monkey app goes crazy, though, when I play Scrabble. In the last month, I would have scored a lot better in Scrabble if I could have played some of the following non-words: