Sometimes it takes hours or days to write ten sentences. The process to get to those ten sentences can be complex. I have to forgive myself for taking the time I need to process the story. It arrives in whatever form is appropriate.
Writing Skills – Course Work
Hangout – Overcoming Writer’s Block – Reflections
It helps to come to writing without any distractions. Though writers find what works for them. Some might need to start with a cup of tea. Some might need to be comfortable and well fed.
I find that if I am completely without distractions that can be a distraction itself. So I try not to avoid distractions but become absorbed with my writing whilst possible distractions are around me. This can lead to me needing more time in order to write, but I usually add procrastination into the sum.
The thing that blocks me is fear: fear of being judged and fear of putting myself out there. So I have ideas but when it comes to execution, I can sometimes falter. It seems especially so when I come to the whole project rather than when I come to a portion thereof. So I seem to panic, especially when I have a deadline I am coming to and I am no where near ready. Then I want it finished, but it seems that I cannot finish stories like that. The stories come when they are ready. I just have to make myself a conduit for them and be ready to write.
So we talked a bit about my assignment. I am currently stuck on showing how Sid and Jack meet and how to show Jack as a show off and a pain, at least in the eyes of Sid.
So my notes are:
Sid thinks Jack is a show off that he shouldn’t have so much attention.
Sid wouldn’t sing. He does not want that sort of attention but thinks it is wrong for one man to be so popular for no reason.
But how to show that
The things they could be doing are singing on the ship or playing cards
Though Sid would describe Jack. Look at Moon Palace and see how he introduces the next major character.
Jack is a major character
How to show Sid’s dislike of Jack
Why does he dislike Jack
He thinks Jack is a show off
He thinks you shouldn’t put yourself out there that is not right.
He is also a little jealous of Jack’s confidence and popularity but because it is Sid’s story I want you to hear what Sid thinks and for the reader to assume that Sid is jealous
When you’re lacking in confidence you think everyone has this great confidence (words from the group – Heather I think)
So maybe Sid lacks confidence but he is a bit of a prankster. So maybe he feels Jack shouldn’t be such a show off but secretly wishes he had that confidence. So there is some jealousy and competition going on. Jack gets the limelight but Sid wants it. But Sid thinks its not good to want it or have it.
So you have the popular Jack who plays banjo and wins at cards (what game?). And you have the prankster Sid who makes people laugh but only when they are not distracted by Jack. So how to show that?????
What would irk Sid? What about Sid would be upset? He’s a Methodist. His mother is strict. It’s about his mother. Sid is still young. So he would think and feel like his mother even thought he is gaining more autonomy.
So how would his mum view Jack? She would frown on his impulsiveness and charm.
“A man like that will get you into trouble. He’s all about himself. He’s not even faithful to his wife. Look how he kisses those girls at the station. Oh blimey there he goes again showing off. Get’s banjo out at the drop of a hat.”
Jack is irksome, irritating, and attractive. Sid wants to be around him but can’t stand him all at the same time. Jack likes Sid because he’s mischievous. How do I show all this?
When is Jack at his worst at his most insufferable? That is the moment to write about. [Guy said this]
A couple of things from Anne with an E:
Anne: I have just caught up with Gil… the rest of the class
In Anne with an E – Gilbert pulls her hair in order to get her attention and she thinks he is a bully. She doesn’t like him. But she sort of does.
“Children certainly can make you vexed all the time”
“How is that”
“Mr Hammond was certainly vexed”
Cut to scene where you hear a whip and a scream
“No Mr Hammond no”
Hammond is whipping Anne [we are not told why – it does not matter – the whipping is the point]
Anne sees links – she picks up a cup of tea and hears “kin” and it throws her back to a horrid moment.
Reflection on the Course – Half the Trouble
Half the trouble with this course is deciding what to write about. Once I have made that decision, the rest is easy… well not as difficult as the initial decision.
Part 4 – Style and Language – Reflections
Reflections of Project 1 and 2
The workbook talks about writing in the style of the authors we like. I enjoy Stephen King’s chatty narrative. I also was inspired by Dorothy Whipple’s Someone at a Distance. She wrote about Mrs. North (mother of the protagonist) in a style I found compelling.
I watched The BFG yesterday and really enjoyed the way he changed words:
Two rights don’t equal a left
Telly-telly bunkum box
For Project 1 Ex 1, I started a story in first person about my family. I spoke as myself and wrote in the style of King. I tried to be chatty and familiar like his narrators. I produced some writing that could be developed into a fuller story. It helped me to write in the King style because I gave up being worried about how I was writing. It was also fun.
It was interesting to look at the different styles of writing: business and creative. Old fashioned writers like Jane Austen sound different than more modern. The flow and rhythm of her words are more formal. I had never heard of Fiction in Verse before and came upon Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. I only read the beginning but it is so good that I will buy the book. She is very succinct in her use of words but that does not make the writing abstract. It makes her writing interesting. Her word choices are perfect.
Science fiction can sound epic with big language – the same could be said of fantasy. In both of these styles you can write what you like because no one is going to question something that claims to be fantasy. No one is going to say in 1918, people did not talk like that/smoke those brands/etc.
Suspense stories use sharp words. This can be the same in horror, but in horror I find that they also use very ordinary words in horrendous situations, which can heighten the fear level (Misery is one of those where the nurse spoke very kindly and then broke his legs).
Realistic Fiction (To Kill a Mockingbird) can sound a lot like Memoir especially when written in the first person.
I read my work for Project 1 Ex 2 and it felt wrong. I was in a bad space that day and it felt inadequate as I felt inadequate. Maybe that is my voice. The voice of inadequacy. That I will speak for all inadequate people. I will speak for the Carries of the world.
Stephen King said that you have to have a number one reader (this is his wife). But I do not have that. I am not sure who I am writing for. My husband does not like writing. It could be my mother or it could be my counsellor.
I wrote the Project 2 Ex 1 to my mother. It is a story about her father. I found that I wrote more this way. I was not picking at the story so much. I was writing this story to my mother and it flowed as a very shitty first draft. I want to develop this story and might use it for my assignment.
In the workbook it states that “we often talk about a writer ‘finding their own voice’ but a writer is a vocal chameleon who should be able to adopt different voices in different situations.” I was glad to hear this because I never quite understood the finding my own voice statement. Often in my first drafts they are written in my voice, but I have to make changes so that the different characters sound different from me and from each other.
For Project 2 Ex 2 I took part of the story I wrote to my mother and thought about who my grandfather was. I was then able to change the voice from my standard English voice, to a working class voice. It was an interesting exercise because it made me really think about how he would talk and think. Because I never met him, I had to think about the era he grew up in and the area of London he lived.
Hangout – Seven Basic Plots – Reflections
We covered the different plots.
There are only seven plots – so that makes it easy to work out what kind of story it is going to be. Maybe that is what Stephen King means: that he writes a story and if it fits a certain plot then fine, but he does not go out of his way to make it fit a plot. The plot comes after the story.
We studied Part one of Eternal Love which seems like an interesting story. We talked about how he wrote and why he wrote that way. Because the author gave us a tickle of what the story was about and that an event was pending, I found it difficult to read the preceding story prior to the event. If I was to read the whole story, I would have to read that chapter again to really get the information he was giving us. It was tantalising, intriguing, and frustrating. But I think that added to the grit of the story. I would not necessarily change it because it was frustrating. It added anger/frustration to the character of the narrator/protagonist.
I found it easy to understand the different plots and what type of plot fit with the stories I have written.
We were asked to write a story and I stalled. It was hard to write a story under pressure like that. We had 20 minutes and I wrote about my grandad travelling over the English Channel to France at the beginning of the Great War. I was unsure about what I had written. I had to share the first paragraph with the group. It went okay. I will develop that story further.
Engleby – S. Faulks – Reflections
My tutor suggested I read Engleby because “it is a good example of a novel where the prose is rich and descriptive and yet the plot moves along swiftly enough to keep the reader engaged”. He suggested in my Assignment 2 feedback that it also “combines a haunting quality, which you show a talent for, with an emerging plot.”
Engleby is a story of a working class man who receives a scholarship to go to Cambridge College. While there a woman student goes missing. It is a character sketch of a damaged man. With many detours we get to know Engleby: he describes who he likes (in settings); what he likes to do (by showing him doing them); and how smart he is (in school).
It is written in first person which allows us to get intimate with Engleby. However, because the only input we have is from him, it is difficult to know what is true and what he fabricates.
The first dialogue he has is with tutors in the college at his interview shows us his character. He is comfortable with questions regarding academia, but when it comes to regular discussions, he seems uncomfortable. When asked if he had any questions, he become so anxious he sweats and asks them about laundry facilities. Page 4.
Most of the story is internal monologue. This can become a little boring at times. Dialogue helps to break up a story as well as move the story along.
From the first page we are introduced to the main part of the story: Jennifer Auckland the girl who goes missing. Page 1. About a fifth of the way through the story she disappears. Page 86.
When describing settings he was at times very simple building layer upon layer. For example he describes a Turkish bus station thus: “There were sodium lights over the grimy tarmac and the glass-sided shelter. There was that wailing Muslim music turned up louder than the cheap speakers wanted, so their tinny shuddering was added to the vibrato of the singer.” Page 38.
But then he describes something quite poetically; so much so that it is unclear exactly what he means, but you get the feeling from his words. For example, “Whoosh goes the chestnut-amber tide up the side of the straight glass as I tear the cellophane from a silver packet of Sobranie Virginia.” Page 92.
It surprised me how often Faulkes started paragraphs with “I.” I did not think this was acceptable but obviously it is. I also noticed that Faulkes wrote many paragraphs with sentences that start with the same word. This has helped me to realize that story telling does not have to be so laborious.
Faulks brings in a creepy element by having Engleby doing unsociable things. For example, he steals a letter of Jennifer’s ( page 39) and turns up in Ireland at a film society event that Jennifer attends without being a member of the society or invited (page 26).
Some lists do not have “and” before the first item, for example “cheap post-war pebbledash, Mock Tudor with leaded lights, white washed villa.” Page 123. Stephen King mentioned this in his book “On Writing.” He says “It’s not really a good sentence technically speaking… there should be a conjunction (and)… but it’s a good one in terms of the entire passage. Its brevity and telegraphic style vary the pace and keep the writing fresh… A series of grammatically proper sentences can stiffen that line, make it less pliable.” King page 150-151.
PoV – First to Third Person
As another exercise in PoV, I changed a description of myself from first person to third person. Here are both examples. I laughed as I read the third person again (I wrote this a few weeks ago).
You could pinch my cheeks they are so corpulent and high. My eyes are almond shaped but rounder than an Asian beauty. Brown hair and eyes sit in harmonious conflict with my olive, creamy skin. My chin is so prominent it could have been on the front page of the news. While my nose – oh that nose is such a cute button – the kind you get on a baby’s layette. Amid all this splendour is a slight stoop in my shoulders. You know how eagles scour for prey and their head and shoulders are pushed forward. Like that. As if I am continuously carrying a heavy load.
Gazing at her in awe, it was as if he had never witness beauty in human form. He could have pinched those corpulent cheeks. Her coffee eyes were almond-shaped but rounder than an Asian beauty. They rested in harmony with her russet hair and olive, creamy skin. Her chin was so prominent; it could have been on the front page of the news. While her nose – oh that nose was a cute button – the kind you get on a baby’s layette. Amid all this splendour was her only flaw: a slight stoop in her shoulders, which made him think of an eagle scouring for prey with her head and shoulders pushed forward. As if she was carrying a heavy load.
PoV – First Person
As an exercise, I changed my piece for Assignment 2 into the first person. Here are the results:
As I walked up, I counted the hard, stone stairs: thirteen. The rail was cold beneath my grip. I wondered if there were also thirteen iron rods supporting the banister. The walls glistened with yellow stains. The fading moonlight picked out the panelling on the front door as I reached the landing.
Feeling the need to delay my entry, I meditated on the yard below. It was disappearing into a mounting fog. The swirling mist was distracting. It twirled between the sheds and the outside toilet. Sighing, I turned towards home.
The hefty, brass doorknocker sneered down at me. Putting the key in the lock, I pushed open the heavy door. The flat was dark. The floorboards creaked under my boots as I made my way down the hallway. The sitting room was at the end of the hall.
Rotting dampness filled my nostrils as I entered the room. It was hard trying to keep the flat warm with the money I made at the hospital. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the gloom. I groped my way to the fireplace where a matchbox was propped up on the mantel. When I lit the gaslight on the wall, it flickered and popped. The darkness skulked back towards the edges of the room.
When the children were with Bill’s mum, I followed a routine that helped my mood. Our old sofa was always a good place to set down my hat and coat. We had an affinity as its shoulders drooped like mine. Now the gaslight had banished the dark to the corners, it was time to shut out the world. The window by the sofa was draped in lavender curtains. My mother had made these before she died. They had become frayed at the edges, but were a gentle reminder of her. The wind had picked up outside. The ancient plane tree was jostling with the breezes; its branch tapped an unknown code on the pane.
Beneath the window sat Johnny’s chest of toys. Tin soldiers fought with model planes, which rested among wooden alphabet bricks: some letters spelled “dad”. As I picked up one of the tin soldiers, I saw that its limbs were missing. A scar cleaved diagonally across its face. Why had my son tortured his warriors?
The bedroom led off the sitting room. Since he had been gone, I did not go in there alone. It was cold in there. Draughts twisted through the chimney soot in there. Light only seemed to enter the bedroom when the children did.
Tea – that’s what I needed. The kitchen was back down the hallway. Like my humour, the moonlight threw jagged shadows onto the grey walls. A stove and copper flanked one side of the scullery and a deep sink rested under the window. I walked across the old rug towards the basin. Filling the iron kettle, I placed it on the hob.
Stepping out onto the landing, I lit a cigarette. The sweet smoke carried memories. I leant against the railing. The wind’s fingers crept around my neck. It pulled thin strands of hair across my face.
Carrying my tea back to the sitting room, I stopped. The bedroom door was open. My heart started to pound hard. That door had been closed earlier. Hadn’t it? Was he back? Feeling panicked, I crept towards the door. It was black inside the room. “Bill?” I half expected his face to come out of the gloom towards me. Nothing. Not being able to stay there any longer, I drew back quickly and shut the door. My breathing was shallow. I wiped my moist hands on my skirt.
As if in sympathy with my current dilemma, the sofa groaned as I sat down. Sitting sideways, I could keep an eye on the bedroom door. I unlaced my brown boots and pulled them off. Instantaneously, my feet tingled and it reminded me of him. He had often massaged my feet. “The prettiest toes in London.” He had said. I looked through the dim light to the beige, ceramic tiles that curved around the fire grate. Upon the mantle was that photo of us. Those had been happier times.
I had lent on his reassuringly big shoulder and looked into the camera. My dark eyes had been buried under a burgundy hat. My long, oval face came to a point at my nose, which made my chin look tiny. A saggy jacket covered my floral dress. I had pursed my lips.
“Smile,” said the photographer. I had tried but plump cheeks halted the attempt.
“Come on lass, smile,” he repeated. Bill looked up at me with those sweet soft eyes and tweaked my chin.
“She is smiling – go on, take the picture,” he replied. My heart melted
Pulling on my slippers, I sighed and leaned back in the sofa. Would he come back? Would he ever come back? That’s when the tears weld up and flowed down. Using the back of my hand, I roughly wiped them away. He did not deserve my tears. He needed to come back. Suddenly, there was a tap at the door. Or was it the window? Had the branch tapped on the pane? I stared at the bedroom door. The tapping came again. I looked to the window. The curtains moved. A draught encircled my ankles. Those hairs on the back of my neck rose.
A sudden clap of thunder made me jump up from the sofa. “Jesus Christ!” I shouted. My hand flew to my throat and almost involuntarily I took a step back towards the fireplace. Steeling myself against the table, I looked at the offending door. The gaslights crackled and hissed. My breath slowed. I can’t live here alone. I can’t live here without him. His presence lives here. Until he comes back, I have to go.
The rain poured hard that night. And me? I sat at the table and watched that bedroom door.
Reflections – Writing Dialogue
Half way through my classes on dialogue, I have decided to write down what I have done and how it is going.
I have always enjoyed writing dialogue. I have practiced to write it in a way that brings elements of the story in so that I have the characters tell the story through their words and actions rather than the narrator tell the reader what is going on.
I found that writing dialogue in a period piece I have to be careful that I do not write speech as we say it today. That can be a little tough but I did research some words such as swear words to try to be more authentic.
I am finding that as I go along if I want to write a new piece I have to start with the setting, place the characters in there and then have them talk. It can take a while to produce even half a page of writing. I can now see how writing a plan is different that taking that plan and turning it into something interesting to read with description layer upon layer and interesting characters being shown rather than the narrator telling us all about who they are. The characters are shown in how they look, what they do, and what they say. The settings can be used to enhance who the characters are and the issues they are facing in the story.
I am a little confused about Omniscient POV. I have read up on it and I think it is where the narrator knows what is going to happen and tells us about the characters and what is going on for them. It seems to take us back to telling instead of showing. I do not like this POV. It seems to undo everything I have learned about showing/telling. I also cannot see a good reason for writing in that POV. I should research that.
In writing the exercise where we ask questions of a character about their secrets, it was interesting to see how I can show a character being angry or at least a little testy without them saying I am angry. Of course a person could be a little defensive when they are being asked about their secrets. Also, they do not always answer questions directly. Or they answer the question with another question. Or they go off on tangents.
Listening to people talk and writing the words as they say them is helpful. It helps me to see how they put sentences together in speech. It is a bit like sitting in a garden and listening to the sounds, feeling the breeze, and smelling the scents. I can imangine those things in my head, but to actually be there and put down the words that come out of their mouths is enlightening.
I need practice with punctuation for speech.
It helps me to write up the speech in draft first and then put interesting description around the dialogue to enhance the story. This is just at the point of the speech. Prior to the speech, obviously the setting comes first. But when the speech starts it helps me to get out what I want them to say and how they are going to say it before I put in any action around their dialogue.
Writing Down The Bones – Rough Notes
I read this book because of the recommendation regarding free writing. I have found it useful to get the creative juices running when I get up early in the morning and find time to free write but then I don’t know what to write. I will use this book every day for freewriting ideas. It is wonderful
In the chapter A List of Topics for Writing Practice, there is just that: a list that I can pick from when I have a moment to write. I have not used it yet, but it is good to know it is there. When I have used it, I will come back and complete this.
I find that my Editor gets in before the Creator has jumped off the diving board. It can be very frustrating. In Trouble with the Editor, it was a relief to see that I am not the only one with this problem. Next time I have this problem, I will write what the editor is saying. Often though, it is unconscious. I just find myself stalling or my writing is stilted.
Man Eats Car has shown me what metaphor is. When the Creator is taking charge anything can happen. So yes the ant is the elephant. And the door knocker can sneer (I used that in my second assignment). Apparently you have to believe in the metaphor (when the Editor comes knocking). If not, it will sound wrong. But mainly I like the way she say to get out of the way and let the writing come. Just like this morning when I was sitting on the moon with David Bowie. As Goldberg says, “You will leap naturally when you follow your thoughts, because the mind spontaneously takes great leaps”.
I discovered that when I started to write 10 three-lined poems in 30 minutes. My mind leaped from tea to rhyming slang. This, by the way, is a suggestion in A Sensation of Space. I enjoyed that exercise and will definitely do it again and again.
Goldberg encourages us to use original detail as we see it in writing. If I look around my office, I see worn desks, stained floor tiles, and tired assistants. It is the same if my office were in New York. The details are the same wherever and we can use the ones that are close to us. So as we walk through life, we need to note those details. I could do free-writing in the morning and journaling at night after I have had a day of details.
Details are the basic unit of writing, Goldberg tells us. But she goes on to mention that we need to add heat emotions etc to make it interesting. I’m not sure how I do that. I feel like I am a little detached from my writing. Maybe I am not writing about things that I care about. I am writing family stories. I do care about that. In what way? I never knew my grandparents (apart from Rose – and really I did not know her much except that she did not like me much – but there it is – the emotion – I did not feel loved by her – mostly). Writing about Bill and Grace, I feel closer to them. They become alive for me. I have to think about their characters, what motivated them, where they lived, what they ate for breakfast, etc. Those are the details. Then the emotions that happened because of all this. Their story is easy in some ways because he left. He must have been in pain or confused or just plain mean to have left. She must have been devastated when he did.
Goldberg says “caress the details… care about what is around you… let your whole body touch the river … so if you call it yellow or stupid or slow, all of you is feeling it” (Baking a cake). But she does go on to say in Big Concentration that while we are writing all these details about how to “carve… your first spoon out of cedar” you remember that the snow is falling outside or the lady next door is wearing weally weally red lipstick. And remember that 1+1 might equal 4 as she mentions in One Plus One Equals a Mercedes-Benz – when freewriting I find my editor coming in and wanting to make sense or I feel my Editor coming in and wanting to make it interesting – rather than just letting the writing take over and describe myself as “the warrior in a red horse” or however I am feeling. And do it without thinking if it is good or not or makes sense.
Goldberg talks about listening and becoming one with your listening (Listening). This has helped me recently because I have written down things that I hear on bus or in the office, e.g., “by six it could be chilly it could”. But also listening with all of me. She says “listen with your whole body”. I can understand that through my spiritual practice. Notice all things – like why do some people not like others?
There is a good exercise at page 67 Syntax that I will use for freewriting.
In Nervously Sipping Wine, Goldberg talks about Russell Edson and his poem that are crazy and fun. This is something to remember too for freewriting. Write a list of good first lines that are unconventional: “A man wants an aeroplane to like him”. Then write the poem. As she says “dive into absurdity”. Another one for freewriting.
The chapter Make Statements and Answer Questions is about women and language. She mentions that we make states like “The Vietnam war is awful, isn’t it? “I like this, don’t you?” as if we are in some way trying to get permission for our opinions and tastes. Don’t do that! I know I do and it is not always conscious.
Another exercise is Why Do I Write? Which is an exercise is writing down all the reasons I write. Especially when I think that it is a waste of time.
The last couple of exercises that interested me where writing about a meal (A Meal You Love) – something you really do love like bacon sarnies. The other is writing about home and family – “make a list of all the expressions your family uses and incorporate them in your writing”. I will have a field day with Kelly but there are also the nonsense words that my dad has always used like Shlozalbonce (my nick name) and ch ch ch bang as he sits down.
Finally she also said in this book (but I did not note where): “when I have students who have written many pages and… the writing is not all necessarily good but I see they are exploring… I am glad. I know these people will continue and are not just obsessed with “hot” writing”. I feel that she was writing about me here. I keep trying. I keep exploring. I keep wanting to write and fly.