Tuesday, 11 May 2021

My Five P's of Writing

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Ever since I was small I remember telling stories. Before I could write I was skipping up and down, telling stories to anyone, everyone or even no one. It seems to be part of what make s me 'me' and I can't imagine not doing it. Sometimes the stories exist only in my imagination, never getting written down and they exist for as long as I continue to muse on them. More often they are scribbled in a notebook or typed up somewhere to be discovered half-formed at a later date. These stories all came about by 'pantsing', flying by the seat of my pants. I think this is my default way of making stories. I begin to tell myself a tale and see where it takes me. There is no structure and I have no idea what will happen. This is how I 'won' at NaNoWriMo many years ago. I sat at my laptop with a vague idea and typed away letting it flow from me. No structure, no narrative arc, no sense of an ending. P Number One.

As soon as I started to get more 'serious' about writing I was 'advised' that I needed to plan my work. It was important that I sorted out my narrative arc, wrote character summaries, knew how each scene played out before I typed a single word. So I tried every planning method I could, scribbled stuff down and promptly forgot about most of it once I started writing. Hands were thrown up in horror and I was again 'advised' to keep my planning tight, to prioritise it, to spend almost as much time planning as I did writing. And I stopped writing as much or as often because my plans were never quite right. P Number Two.

Naturally, the third P is Procrastination. All the stressing about planning stopped me writing and I found more and more reasons why I couldn't do it at the moment, today, tomorrow, who knows when. I dithered and played about with ideas but my heart sank at the thought of planning the perfect story. And here comes P Number Four - Perfection. I became obsessed with making the perfect, most detailed plan that I was paralysed - no, that's not Number Five! If my plan wasn't perfect then there was no way I could write my story. Because 'real' writers have a brilliant, perfect plan. Don't they? So I soon gave up on all my ideas and the writing almost stopped. The stories would still pop into my head and entertain my imagination but I found myself telling them that I was sorry but they'd never get written. They were just too fluid, too unformed and refused to conform to a plan. Jelly stories flooding all over the place with no mould to flop into.

P Number Five is Publication. If I was to be a 'real' writer, a 'proper' writer then I had to get stuff published. Didn't I? And to get stuff published I had to plan and make it perfect and bloody well get it written. But I was procrastinating because nothing was planned or perfect and round and round I went, getting nowhere. 

Here I am, contemplating the terror of the Five P's.

Stuck and blocked and with an idea that I thought was great but had a terrible ending. So I started to unpick another plan, changing the ending and the darn thing morphed into a different story. Which needs planning, of course. So I'll make some tea, stare out of the window and try to be a good girl and plan out the new idea. If I can stop procrastinating about perfection in planning that is!  




Thursday, 25 March 2021

Book Review - Reynard the Fox by Anne Louise Avery

This is a most scholarly work. The level of research shines from it. Anne Louise Avery certainly knows her subject and their world, it is a tour de force. I felt totally immersed in the world.

That's not to say that it is dull and worthy, far from it. This is a brilliant story, told by a real scholar. I was drawn into the world of Reynard's Flanders, I felt the sun on my back and the dust under my feet as I joined the characters on their travels. The descriptions of food were magnificent, my mouth watered and I could almost taste the soft white bread and the thick cream.

I particularly liked the female characters - Gente, who would have made a much better ruler than Noble; Hermeline, who keeps Reyanrd from his worst excesses; and Rukenawe, who is the wisest of all and reminded me of a cross between Margaret Rutherford and Alistair Simm in the St Trinian films! 

The best thing for me is the use of language. Anne Louise Avery has a beautiful turn of phrase which is bewitching and breathtaking. I can only aspire to write a fraction as well as her.

All in all, a real joy. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

To Those Men

 To those men who think it's a laugh to catcall women as they walk down the road.

To those men who brush ever so casually against your breast as they reach for the rail on the tube.

To those men who walk too close to women on a dark street.

To those men who tell you to smile, cheer up, be pretty.

To those men who drunkenly tell you you're beautiful and leer close to you as you back away.

To those men who try to steal a kiss when being pushed firmly away.

To those men who comment on your legs or breasts or arse.

To those men who sit too close on the bus pressing their leg against yours.

To those men who grab women, who touch women, who fondle women in crowded places.

To those men who pull women in tight, who push women into dark corners, who force their bodies against women.

To those men who put their hands on women, who put their hands under your clothes, who pull at your clothing.

You are part of the problem.

It's not a laugh, it's not banter, it's not ok.

It's threatening.

It's frightening.

It's abuse.

I call it out, all women call it out.

It's not ok to make women feel scared, threatened, intimidated.

It's not ok to be that man, that bully, that predator.

And until you accept that we will continue to live in fear of you, to walk in fear, to see you all as predatory.

To hold our keys in our clenched fists, to avoid going out in the dark, to plan our route home carefully.

To teach our daughters to fear men, to be small and quiet so the men won't see them.

To mourn and fight and fear at each new attack, each tragic murder, each case of coercive control.

Written in sadness, in memory of all the abused, scared and murdered women.

In hope we can change this narrative.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

What a dream can tell me.

 I often have vivid dreams, mostly things that are fantastic or just plain weird. But sometime my dreams tell me exactly what I need to hear. Last night was one of those occasions.

I dreamt that I was at a resort, somewhere with a large coach park which reminded me of school parking duties - dust, stones and aching boredom! I was collected by a floating pod which whisked me away up an outcrop which reminded me of The Lost World. There were openings off to the side to various environments - forest, jungle, city and so forth. I was taken to a beautiful estuary, very Devon/Cornwall. There was a wooden structure, like a shed, overlooking the estuary and with one side open to the water. It was a cozy version of Dylan Thomas' writing hut with a comfy day bed, an antique desk and a kitchen to make tea. There was a deck with creaky wicker chairs and cake on a low table. Bliss.

On the desk was an old typewriter and a pile of smooth creamy paper just asking to be written on. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing and I threaded the paper into the typewriter, pushed the carriage return and began to type. When I read what I had typed I saw that the letter 'e' was missing. The arm and key were there but there was nothing to print the letter on the paper. Suddenly I saw an old fashioned intercom on the desk and I pressed a button. A machine-like voice answered and I explained my problem. A replacement typewriter would be provided. I made tea and sat outside. I then realised that when I had spoken to the machine we had used words without using a single letter 'e'!

The new typewriter had a working 'e' but as I typed I saw that the 's' was missing. This continued as more typewriters were brought in and more letters were missing. At no point before I woke up did I have a machine with all the keys functioning at the same time. Very frustrating. Yet when I woke I realised that what my subconscious was telling me was that I was failing to get on with my writing because I kept finding excuses not to do it. I have all the resources I need, all the time I need and yet I find more and more reasons not to sit down and write. 

Self sabotage. I recognise this well, it's something I've been guilty of at various points in my life. I have something deep seated within me which doesn't want me to succeed. I seem to be scared of success, of accomplishment. And I'm not sure it's not too late to do something about it. But I will keep trying, even though it scares me that I may get there one day.

What's holding you back?