Monday, 21 December 2009

I Write Anywhere

It's Christmas and what better way to celebrate than by murdering a much-loved poem? So, with profuse apologies to Eleanor Farjeon, here goes. You may want to look away now...

I write anywhere:
Kitchen table, office chair,
Planes and buses, moving cars,
On the top of hotel bars,
In queues and cafes, bathroom stall.
(but on a notepad, not the wall)

I have no shed or studio,
Or anywhere that I can go,
To hide away from kids or wife,
So public writing is my life.

My habit is on full display,
To anyone who comes my way,
It makes me feel a little shirty,
As if I'm doing something dirty.

But almost no-one ever asks,
About my funny scribbling tasks,
Except a lady on a train,
From Birmingham, who picked my brain,
And said she'd love to write and rhyme,
Except she couldn't find the time.

Her words made me feel kind of sad,
But also that I wasn't mad,
To catch ideas before they flew.
(I wrote that bit in B&Q)

This fiction lark takes months and ages,
Ink and pixels, words and pages.
A quiet moment's pretty rare,
So that's why I write anywhere.

Nick.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Training Wreck

I have a chip on my shoulder about creative writing training. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if it's actually a phobia. I've always been suspicious of the "right way" to go about writing a book and have often taken a deliberately wilful route through the maze. I guess this is called "making my own mistakes", although sometimes it feels like winding up the window and not asking for directions, even though my wife is shouting at me and threatening divorce.

Somebody lent me a copy of How to Write a Blockbuster by Helen Corner and Lee Weatherly. Now, I'm sure this is an excellent book and the quick peeks I've had at it seem to back this up. But, I just can't bring myself to read it. Every time I pick it up, I get through half a paragraph before a spike of panic forces me to put it down. Stephen King could not have a stronger emotional effect on me than this book! So, what am I scared of? I think, deep down somewhere, I am convinced of some small fragile uniqueness, something that makes my writing different to everyone else. Opening myself up to "established" writing ideas feels like exposing myself to a virus and I worry that this infection will somehow wipe out what little talent I have.

Ok, I will admit that this argument has more holes than my plotting. Plenty of you have had creative writing training, some at MA level and you can all still write with wit and individuality. In fact, better than you could before, I'll wager. I'm sure I could dredge up a whole load of statistics about how much such courses improve your chances of getting published. Unfortunately, fears are not rational. Many (all?) of us are riven by self-doubt and the feeling that we will never again be able to put fingers to keyboard and write even one word that has any worth. One of the most refreshing things about the SCBWI conference was hearing Meg Rosoff talk about her own struggles with self doubt and the shadow that the success of How I Live Now has cast across her subsequent work.

I'd love to end this post by telling you how I've just enrolled on an Arvon course or a wonderful spiritual journey to the heart of the novel, but, hey, that's not going to happen. I have, however, been managing to read some advice on plotting without throwing up and I think it's improving my structure by degrees. Just not postgraduate degrees.

Nick.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Metaphorically Speaking

I've found myself thinking a lot this week about what I enjoy about writing, often followed by an excess of sighing and "Oh why do I do it?" type statements to anyone in range. I spent hours and hours doing re-plotting yesterday and I think that is one of those things I do enjoy, the moment that the plot suddenly snaps into place. But more than that, the thing I find really satisfying is crafting the perfect metaphor. I've noticed them creeping into my blog posts recently and I hope that hasn't been distracting - I started off blogging with a deliberately plain voice and it has interested me how I've begun to develop a style over the last few months. Having a "blog voice" wasn't something I even considered, but I guess it is a process of writing to an audience like anything else. Oh, and just like fiction, I guess I'm still writing primarily for me!

Anyway, back to figurative language. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_stages_of_competence) tells me that the levels of competence in a skill are defined as:
1) Unconscious Incompetence - You don't know that you don't know something.
2) Conscious Incompetence - You still don't know it but you realise that you need to.
3) Conscious Competence - You make the effort to learn something and apply it.
4) Unconscious Competence - You know something so well that you don't have to think about it any more.

I had been at stage three with similes and metaphors for a while, with lots of sections in my first draft like:

He types the words as if [insert simile here]

Of course you can't actually force this stuff - figurative description is something that needs to dribble down from the subconscious, but I could generally see where in my text some was needed. Half of the time in draft two a suitable metaphor would arrive and half of the time I would just reword the paragraph. Anyway, recently I seem to have moved onto stage four of the competence scale and it's had some weird effects on the kind of stuff I'm producing. Whereas before I was struggling to be technically competent in my description, I had someone tell me recently that my imagery was actually too beautiful and that it was distracting from the down-and-dirty zombie action. Maybe I need to start writing poetry or something!

He stabs at the keyboard, murdering his lily-white prose in a frenzy of overwriting.

Nick.