Constant Companions

We all like a bit of company. Yes, we vary in the amount and intensity of the company we enjoy, but, on the whole, we welcome friends and fellow travellers. We are social creatures, it’s one of the things that define us as a species. We like to to get into each other’s heads. We are interested in each other’s thoughts, feelings and experiences. It’s the reason why we love to read and why we love the exploration of writing.

But what about the silent passengers?
We all have silent company.
Inside our heads,
following our every step.

I’m talking about words.

From the moment we begin to piece our thoughts together we hang those thoughts on words.
Whichever language or languages we use, we carry our companions. Some have been with us from our first year of life. Some are new this year and others, if we really love language, are new today. They inform who we are. The shape and sound of our words decide the movements of our face. They influence how we look. They decide when we pause, when we breathe. They gather us into groups by country or class by occupation or interest.

They are wonderful, incredible things.
Take a close look at your companions.
They helped to build you.

I write Bad Words

Sometimes I write bad words. No, let me correct that. Sometimes I write truly awful words. Shocking. The thoughts in my head good sentences will not do. Like that one. Sometimes sloppy thinking meets sloppy sentence structure and before I know it I’ve confused myself never mind anyone else.

But that’s okay. 

It’s okay to write bad words.

It can be difficult not to sink into the Slough of Despond when the words don’t flow, but if you are sitting there with your head in your hands and mentally melting door knobs with an Edvard Munch type scream, let me just point out this one thing,

You know that they are bad words.

How do you know that?

Because your mind is comparing them to a checklist of things that you ought to be producing and sending up the red flag. Even if you don’t know why they are wrong your mind is gently prodding you in the right direction. Our wonderful minds notice and compare so many more things than reach our conscious awareness. Each one of us is brighter than we think.

If you know that something isn’t right you are at least halfway to fixing it. So put down the knitting Miss Marple, put aside the tisane Poirot, and get the little grey cells working on the problem. Each case of mistaken word identity, adjective kidnapping, or punctuation theft that you solve makes you significantly better as a writer, and sometimes the solutions that evade us the longest are the lessons that teach us the most.

 

Why don’t we write?

We don’t write as often as we should. 

Now I’m not a task-master. I’m not one of those people out to give you a hard time about perseverance and word count. We all have our own writing road to travel and we get there in our own time and in our own way. No, I’m talking about those times when we have everything we need, computer, book and pen, beverage of choice, time and space, and yet we shy away from the act of writing. Frustrating isn’t it? Oh yes, we dress it up in fancy terms. We say that we are procrastinating or researching or reflecting, which are fine things to do, whereas, if we were honest with ourselves we would own up to the fact that we are having a bravery crisis.

Putting your thoughts out into the world can be a scary business, people aren’t always kind, sometimes we do a less than stellar job, and our writing might not be good. All of those things are true but every writer faces those anxieties, even the good ones. I am talking about the really, really good ones, the ones that you read and think, now that is a true talent. They all have pen biting days. They face the question of whether they can do it, and in some cases the question of whether they can do it again, over and over. The most prolific writers, the best writers, will all write bad stuff. They produce less than wonderful writing on a regular basis and they continue to write. They sift and hone. They learn and grow. They learn to recognise the good stuff and keep it. That is what it means to be a writer. 

Not every sentence from your pen will be golden, not ever. Not even after a Booker/ Costa/ Guardian prize. 

So write. Let yourself write. You won’t always find it easy to overcome the nerves but be kind to yourself and let the bad stuff out. In the gravel and the grime you will find those nuggets of gold that keep you coming back and keep you moving on.

 

Who Am I?

I’m a writer currently living in Middle England. I am taking time this year to write a collection of twelve short stories.
I have a great and very patient Editor. I hold an Honours Degree in Applied Human Psychology and I tend not to talk about myself very much mostly because I put all the interesting things on the page, and when you have done that what is there left to say?
I read a great deal and widely. I’m currently listening to a lecture series on Plato’s Republic because, well, I haven’t before. I think it’s important to always be learning and growing.
I enjoy writing and I try to make each piece better than the last.

Why is Writing so Difficult?

Once you have mastered the alphabet, grasped the grammar and practised punctuation; listened, learned, read and re-read, writing should be easy, shouldn’t it?  As a writer you have the tools, you have the texts and you have the time, and yet writing is difficult. It is elusive, sometimes you catch it and sometimes you don’t, that elusive Muse. 

Let me reassure you that you are far from crazy, and everyone who has ever attempted to write anything longer than a limerick has shared your experience. Sometimes we have all the skills and we don’t know what to say. The Muse is elusive. That is why it is incredibly important to be ready for it. Have paper or a keyboard, have a pen or pencil, have a working knowledge of your language or several, know what constitutes the correct form for articles, essays, novels, blog posts; be prepared.

Be prepared for the Wrestle, because make no mistake there will be a battle between the Muse and the You. Sometimes the Muse will want to inspire us and the You will refuse to comply because, well people may not like what we do. On the other hand they might like what we do, and want another one, and we may not be able to produce another one because the muse is elusive. We really get in our own way when things are worthwhile.

Let me tell you a truth that holds for every writer this planet has ever produced.

There is never a wasted word.

Nothing you produce is ever wasted, even if it is poor in quality. How do you think writers get to the good stuff? We keep creating the words until we make some with merit and even those we polish.

Be prepared. Show up. Keep creating.

And when You pronounce yourself, not good enough, not correct, not worth listening to, channel your inner sulky teenager with a hearty

“Yeah, Whatever.”

and

Be prepared. Show up. Keep creating.

Writing is Difficult. The Muse is elusive, but we all know the answer to that don’t we?

Be….

 

 

There are words

 There are words. They curl and tumble through time and space, through nebulae and dark stars, teardrops and sea mist, in search of a poet. They search diligently and completely and patiently until they find the one person who can open the universe and let them pour onto the page. They don’t care if the poet has studied or if he is important. They don’t care if he is a he. Their only desire is to flow into being. Time is without consequence. These remnants of the creation seek a creator to speak them into life and when they find their creator they are without mercy, they jostle and push for attention and compel him into action. They are ambivalent about whether the poet writes poetry or paints a story, creation seeks a creator, and the page is more patient than a person. Eventually they will fulfil their purpose and reach the heart they are seeking. And when they are shared, then they grow another poet, who will listen for the words and open the universe to allow them to flow onto the page. It is a mystery of being that the words which come to a poet are often not for the poet, in fact he doubts their necessity or credibility or viability until he accepts their need to be and his need to allow them to be. Then, there is peace and there are words which tumble through time and space…

 

The Words. A Fable

Once there was a young man who wished with all his heart to be the King of Words. He wanted to write songs, and poems, and stories that would be famous throughout the land.

One day he heard that the Father of the Forest was able to grant the wishes of young men who wanted words, and so he travelled a long way, for a year and a day, to see the Father.

The Father was the tallest, and the oldest, and the wisest tree in all the world. His roots bound the land together and his branches supported the sky, and he was very kind. He listened to the young man, and when he had listened, he touched one gentle, gnarly finger to the young man’s chest and took out his heart.

It was a thing of amazing beauty, bright and shining like the largest diamond. The Father smiled and bending low over the heart he whispered,

“Live, Love, Learn.”

Then he gently replaced it and sent the young man out into the world to be a writer.

 

The years passed slowly and times were very hard for the young man. He always seemed to lose his luck or his love and there were days when he despaired of his life. He became very unhappy and decided to return to the Father, to ask why, when he had come to him with such a pure heart, the Father had not given him the words.

The Father was even taller and older and kinder. He welcomed the young man as a child, and he listened. Then he touched one gentle, gnarly finger to the young man’s chest and took out his heart. It was dark and chipped and broken, and held together by love and tears. The young man began to cry as he looked at his poor heart but the Father smiled a gentle smile. He held up the heart in the green warmth of the Summer afternoon, and he broke it clean in two.

Out poured words: red, green, amber and gold, the bluest blue of the ocean and the deepest black of the night sky. They poured unceasingly to the forest floor creating streams of life and love and laughter, swirling around the feet of the amazed young man.

“My Child,” said the Father with great love,

” Why would I give you words, when you have been growing your own? “

 

How to Write

There are a  multitude of books available on the subject ‘How to write’ and a plethora of courses available, all promising to show you the secrets, give you an outline, throw you a rope when you are drowning in words. Many of these are well written, well thought out and helpful, but sometimes they seem to subtly miss the mark for us. We have a head full of theories, plans, guidelines and confusion.

You see, courses and books can give you a very clear idea about how other people write and have written, but what no teacher will admit off the bat is that they have no idea how you are going to do it. Writing is a journey, one we all take in a different direction. Before we set out we need to fill our backpack with three things

1) Words – dictionary, thesaurus, experience of reading a great deal

2) Grammar – an understanding of how the words fit together.

3) Punctuation – knowledge about how we signpost meaning.

These are the essentials. We all need these. Without these we are trekking the Himalayas in our swimwear. 

Next we need the useful items:

Map of the terrain – an idea of the structure of a novel, short story,  article, essay

Travel guide – a description of journeys by past explorers. How did other writers write?

And finally we need the things that make life more enjoyable:

Chocolate – or your treat of choice

Bug Spray – for the Fear bug, which swarms on a scale from nervous tension – sheer terror. If you have no spray then hit them with a slipper, newspaper, pop song.

All packed? Good. Now you are ready to explore. Some of us will be an Amundsen, Columbus or Magellan and some of us will be Dora, and that’s fine. The journey is our own. We make it ourselves and each discovery is as exciting regardless of who we are. Be yourself and forge your own path and before long you will have a page in the Travel guide.

Watch out for the Self-editing Tar-pits and

Happy Trails!

    

Change is a good thing

I have never been gifted with telling the future but there is one certainty that confronts each of us, things change. The changes that have been happening in the world of publishing over the last five years have thrown hopes and expectations into the air and we are all still waiting for them to land. We are coming to terms with new technology. Any advance has positive and negative implications for those working in the industry but the movement towards digital self-publishing has changed things in a way no-one anticipated. There is a great deal of discussion around the relevance of publishing houses in this new brave world. Things change.

Insecurity often makes people feel that they have to make a decision, take a stand, have a firm opinion. We like to know what we know, you know. 

Well, I know one thing. I fully support any and all means of championing the written word. We need more writing of a good quality. Traditional publishers have always been driven by the bottom line to produce work which will sell to the masses. Often the sale of such works supports the development of more literary projects. I doubt this will change. Self publishing will produce a vast quantity of lower quality work it is true but it will also give an opportunity to the gifted to produce breathtaking work of literary beauty without having to rely on a publisher’s previous sales of Diary of the Stig part 2.

Low or lower quality work is no threat to the publishing industry and those authors who produce excellent work will earn their stripes before submitting to publishing houses. Editors will include the banner headline ” Why aren’t you selling? ” on their websites and the world will continue to turn. Wordsmiths will continue to produce the words. We monkeys will make magic.

Sometimes it’s good to remember that no matter how big the change the important things stay the same.

The Wind blows through it

So here you are again sitting in front of your computer screen, fingers poised for action and…

nothing.

Zip.

Nada.

What do you do when the muse has left the building and all you can hear is the breeze, wafting through the roomy emptiness of your mind? 

Easy. You write about the writers’ block. We have trained for this moment. You have powers of description to rival a literary superman. Just go to it and do it. If you are still struggling to form a sentence, and who doesn’t from time to time, then you need to break out the big guns.

Adverb Amnesty!

Tell the world that you are quickly, happily, joyously, expeditiously, theoretically, honestly and finally breaking through the wall of wordlessness and you defy anyone to stop you. Trust me, any more than 40 adverbs in any one piece of writing and you will scare the most truculent subconscious into submission. If you keep writing the wall will dissolve and leave you breathless but working. 

Of course if you carry the adverbage into your functional piece of prose then you need to step away from the computer and take a long hard look at yourself. What’s that all about?