Category Archives: my magnum hopeless

Lay Your Head on the Writer’s Block

I’m never quite sure what writer’s block is.  I know it refers to an inability to write, but what actually counts as writer’s block?  If you sit staring at a screen for hours without writing a word, does that count?  Or is that too short a time?  Does it have to last at least a few days or weeks before you can call it writer’s block?  And when I wasn’t writing at all between the ages of eight and twenty-four, was that writer’s block?  Or was it a crisis of identity?

Aside from the question of how long it lasts, what kind of thing is writer’s block?  Is it the complete inability to write a single word?  Or does it mean you don’t write anything you’re remotely satisfied with?  If it’s the latter, I’m in trouble – because ‘not remotely satisfied’ describes nearly every day’s work for me.  But if it’s the former I’m OK because most days I manage to write something, even if it’s only a blog post.  Which is why I’m so glad I have this blog, because on really bad days where I can’t string two morphemes together, I can at least manacle a blog post into position, run it up the flag and see if anyone salutes it.  A blog post is usually less than 500 words; it’s achievable and, with the click of a button, it’s published and ready to read.

OH has an interesting view on overcoming writer’s block.  In the same way that Michelangelo saw the sculpture as being hidden within the stone

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/michelange386296.html

you could regard writing as ‘taking away’ everything which is not the story.  I’m not sure how cutting things away works when faced with a blank page rather than a lump of rock, but it’s worth thinking about. *

In ‘His Dark Materials’, Phillip Pullman wrote of the subtle knife which cuts windows between different worlds, ‘you may have intentions but the knife has its own intentions.’

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/the-subtle-knife

This is an idea I try to bear in mind when writing a poem; that when writing I may have intentions, but the poem has its own intentions too.  Nevertheless, the blank page can be a very intimidating thing to overcome, so when I have a bad day and think all my thoughts are worthless, I try just to write, believing that anything is better than nothing and reminding myself without a first draft there can be no second draft, no finished version.

I guess the process of writing is hard to fathom, else there would be no such thing as writer’s block.  But it’s clear that writing begins with thought.  Thoughts occur in the mind, and the writer selects which of them to commit to paper: so maybe writer’s block begins here, at the level of thought.  When the mind is a blank, the page will be a blank.  However, in my experience what is more likely going on is that the mind is not producing anything your critical self deems worthy of using; hence a good exercise when blocked is to write whatever comes into your mind, no matter how nonsensical or seemingly worthless.  James Joyce did this, and look what he managed to produce just listening to the babbling of his mind!

Interesting things happen when we let go of controlling our thoughts.  And out of this arises poetry.

And I know it’s not the day for linking to it, but I’m going to link here to the Insecure Writers Support Group because this post is relevant.

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/

Kirk out

*Sounds like some bizarre version of scissors, paper, stone…

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Insecure Wednesday

Yes, it’s the first Wednesday of the month and time to be insecure again – and this month the question we insecure writers are asked to consider is, ‘What is your favourite aspect of being a writer?’

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com

Well I guess for me, my favourite aspect is the tremendous sense of liberation which comes from ‘unpacking the heart.’  That phrase is used rather disparagingly by Hamlet, but for me it’s an opening, a freedom; not so much a road as a river that you follow, never knowing where it may lead you.  Each day is a surprise and although it is often hard, just as following the course of a river is hard and can lead you into ravines and over rugged rocks; when you finally break through, the experience is stunning.

I never know where I’m going and I like it that way.  Looking back you find a sense of rhythm and purpose but at the time it often makes no sense: all you can do is pursue that infuriating river that twists and winds, falls and rises, expands to a sea and contracts almost to nothing.  It’s like Leonard Cohen once said: it starts off easy but then you’re on your hands and knees at 3 am trying to pursue a lyric.

OK so now I realise I’m getting away from the good stuff and talking about the difficulties.  But you can’t have one without the other folks!

Speaking of Hamlet, there was a guy on the radio the other day who claimed that the supposed universality of Shakespeare was all down to a conspiracy by the RSC.  Sounds a bit far-fetched to me…

Happy (and hard) writing!

Kirk out

 

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Rectory Towers: The Work Situation

I’m getting into a routine now that I’ve been here a week or so.  The first few days were taken up with other people; sister was here till Friday and from Friday to Monday the house was taken over by a horde of thirty-somethings celebrating nephew’s birthday.  As hordes go they were very gentle and caring; they chatted to me, stacked the dishwasher and put their empty bottles and cans in the recycling, but by Sunday they were all distinctly bleary-eyed and headed off to their respective lives, leaving me to begin mine here, in this house.

I’m settling in to Rectory Towers now, finding a groove that fits with my usual routine.  I do my best writing in the mornings so the hours after breakfast are devoted to the new novel.  I don’t want to say too much about it but the theme is gender and like the TV series it’s called ‘Boy Meets Girl.’  At least that’s the working title.  For the first time I can see myself actually finishing a novel, as opposed to ending it, if you see what I mean.  Previous novels have been forced to a conclusion by sheer marathon efforts, sometimes using NaNoWriMo (http://nanowrimo.org) as a spur, sometimes giving myself a time-limit.  Last year’s novel was written in about 2 1/2 months and though it was valuable no-one could say it was finished.  I got satisfaction from bits of it, but not from the thing as a whole.

This time it’s different.  I don’t know how many novels most writers have to complete before they get one they’re happy with, but I suspect it’s a few.  I’ve written maybe seven or eight over the years – I can’t remember now – some for NaNoWriMo and some not.  If you want to write a novel and can’t quite begin, I recommend NaNo – the time is coming up soon, so get with it.  The thing is to just write, get the words down, without thinking about what you’re writing and (above all) whether it’s any good.

I know I’ve said this before about poetry but I think it holds good for prose too – you don’t want the critical voice in there when you’re writing.  When you’re revising, fine – but when you’re doing the first draft, it needs to butt out.

So the first novel I ever wrote – as you’re probably tired of hearing – was about a woman stuck in a nuclear bunker.  She imagines there has been a nuclear apocalypse (it was written in the late ’80’s) and that other people will soon come.  When no-one does she believes they are all dead.  In order to survive the boredom and loneliness she begins to write what are basically her memoirs – and in coming to the most recent past, realises that the apocalypse was not real at all but the product of a mental event (there’s more to this but I won’t go into it now).  The novel is called Seven Days because she’s in the bunker for seven days; creating (or re-creating) herself; and on the seventh day she realises that the bunker isn’t real.

I wanted the story to parallel the timeline of life on earth, which I read somewhere began 300 million years ago.  In order to give myself some idea of what 300 million years was like I began to rule strips of paper into a timeline broken up into spans of a hundred years.  I started to paste them round my wall.  Progress was very slow, and in the end I worked out that if I did this for eight hours a day, seven days a week it would take me three years to complete.

So I guess you could say I got an idea of an idea of what 300 million years is like.  But no more than that.

But enough of this: so far, ‘Boy Meets Girl’ is going well; I’ve written the first few chapters already and I’m ready to plan the next lot.  Each day I put the words from the day before onto the computer and then write another section.  When I’ve done that it’s usually lunchtime; then after lunch I write a blog post or some thoughts in my diary.  Then about three-ish I take the dogs for a walk; then when we come back it’s time to suss out the fuel and wood situation and think about lighting the range.  Once I’ve got the range going I read or write some more for a while and then it’s time for dinner, over which I usually listen to whatever’s on at 6.30 followed by The Archers.  Yes, I’ve got back into the Archers again.

There’s TV in the evenings, or pub; and so to bed, having let the dogs out, checked the gas obsessively, given the dogs their bedtime treat and tucked them in.

Kirk out

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Monday Momentum

No, this is not a political post.  Regardless of what may be kicking off in the political arena, this is a writing post.  Since I don’t work at weekends, by and large choosing to mimic the typical working week (Monday to Friday, 9-5ish) by Monday my brain is fizzing with ideas and I am ready to hit the page running.  I write my best poems – or start them – on a Monday; I have my brightest ideas on a Monday.  The result can be that Tuesdays are a little flat.  I pick up on Wednesdays and sometimes go to perform at Sound Cafe too; then Thursdays are not too bad but by Friday afternoon I’m flagging and ready for the weekend again.

And there’s the rub: the work ethic.  The work ethic has its uses.  It’s useful for getting me to my desk in the morning and back to it after lunch.  It’s useful for getting me off Facebook and for dealing with distractions.  But there it’s usefulness ends.  I don’t need it to be nagging at me about how many hours I’ve done today or what I have actually achieved; because in theory although I do around eight hours, it is impossible to write (poetry at least) for that long, because it is so intense.  Actually I find prose almost as intense, so I tend to do it in short bursts.  But when I used to add up my hours and find that I’d only done 4 hrs of laptop-time or whatever, I’d feel discouraged.  I’d feel I wasn’t working hard enough.

But what is work, anyway?  In the field of ordinary employment work is fairly well-defined as tasks set by your employer (or, if you’re self-employed, by the needs of your business).  But how do you define it in the creative sphere?  Is it only work if I produce something that can be sold?  If I just fiddle around with ideas or stare into space or go for a walk, is that work?  Doing a cryptic crossword may not look like work but it helps my poetry enormously as it’s all about splitting words up: it’s about what they sound like and look like; how they live, move and have their being.  Going for a walk may not look like work but if I’ve been staring at a blank page for hours it can free up the mind and generate ideas.  Lots of activities – colouring, reading, listening to the radio, even sometimes looking at Facebook – can stimulate the mind.  And there’s the thing.  Creativity is sometimes like the wool-shop in Alice.  If you look directly at the thing you want to write, the mind goes blank, just like the shelves in the shop when Alice looks at them.  But if you look away; if you distract the conscious mind by ostensibly doing something else, the shelves become packed again.

It’s a hell of a job trying to understand this process, but anyone who’s creative will recognise it.  And one thing I can really do without is the work ethic nagging at me and telling me I’m not really working or I haven’t done enough.

So the work ethic can **** right off.

I don’t tend to read a lot during the day but as bedtime reading I’m into Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  At the moment I can’t decide whether it’s a corny rehash of the books or an exciting new venture.  Watch this space…

Kirk out

 

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It’s Time to be Insecure Again

Yes, it’s that time of the month when insecure writers of the world unite and state that they have nothing to lose but their fears…  This month I am feeling insecure about politics.  There’s so much hostility flying around in the political arena, what with post-Brexit recriminations (and racism), Labour Party factionalism, Donald Trump ghastliness (and Hillarious beastliness) that it’s hard to know where to turn.  It’s tempting, in fact, to turn right off and say nothing whatever about anything as the fear of being shot down in flames is too great.

But when you feel passionate about something you can’t just shut up and go away.  And there’s the rub: because in expressing passionate opinions you lay yourself open to all kinds of responses, from the enthusiastic to the Eeyore-ish, from the respectfully disagreeing to the abusive.  So whereas I feel more secure than I did about, say, my poetry, and I don’t mind so much if people don’t like it, I do tend to feel insecure when I express political opinions.

Aaand talking of a range of reactions, get a load of this then:

your profile photo

Yes, it’s my latest haircut (well, not so much a haircut, more a close shave.)  The other day I was lamenting the lack of dosh to visit the hairdresser’s.  Then I reflected that I didn’t really know what sort of haircut I wanted anyway.  So I got out the clippers, intending to cut a bit off the bottom and maybe shave the underside to cool off a bit.  And I just got carried away.  It feels great, as if a weight has been taken off my mind (!) but what’s interesting is the range of reactions I’ve had from people, from outright enthusiasm (Wow!  It looks great!) to a somewhat more wary (gosh, isn’t it short!) to the frankly scared.  Drastic changes do tend to evoke strong reactions in people and you can’t always predict who will react in what way.

But I digress.  This month we Insecure Writers are asked to blog about our first writing project: what was it, when was it and, most crucially, where is it now?

Well, I’ve blogged about this before, but here goes.  My first serious writing project began in about 1981.  It was a novel called ‘Seven Days’ and concerned a woman trapped in a nuclear bunker (remember, this is pre-glasnost.)  When no-one else comes, she concludes that they are all dead and that she is trapped alone in the bunker until it’s safe to go out.  To prevent herself from going mad she starts to write her memories.  Each day she recalls a different stage in her life, leading up to the recent past when the plot-twist happens and on the last day, Sunday, she leaves the bunker.  Sadly this novel has remained unpublished as I haven’t been able to do enough with it.  But I haven’t given up…

Happy Insecure Wednesday, fellow-writers!  And here’s the obligatory link to the blog:
http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/

Kirk out

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Happiness is a Small Plot

As a writer I often sit down with a bunch of ideas, happily bimbling along and sooner or later I think, ‘I suppose right about now something ought to happen.  Oh no.  Must something happen?  Must there be some sort of plot?’  Meanwhile JK Rowling has sketched out her first novel, sorted out several plot twists and connected them to the further six novels she has in the pipeline.  See, plot is the one thing that doesn’t come naturally to me.  Ideas, concepts, conceits, dialogue, description, word-play – they all trip off the pen.  But ask me to make something happen – that’s a different story.

But! the plot I have in mind today is of an altogether different sort.  It is the beloved plot, the blessed rod, pole or perch of land which I call my garden.  And at the bottom of it, where there was once a tangle of nettles, I have now planted some poppy-seeds and covered the bed with mulch.  And it looks lovely.  Even more satisfyingly, I made the mulch myself out of shredded branches and hedge-clippings.

So who cares about narrative?  While I have my poetry and my garden, I’m happy.  And JK Rowling can be queen of the plot.

Kirk out

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What’s the Point?

This is a question we all feel like asking ourselves from time to time.  What’s the point of our lives?  I guess artists and writers may ask the question more than most; although if I was a shelf-stacker at Asda or a hotel cleaner I might feel a different sense of pointlessness.  The artist, however ignored, however unsuccessful or underpaid, does at least have the happiness that comes from art and the strength which arises from self-determination.  In fact I sometimes think that no amount of fame and money can compensate for losing your own artistic voice.  Whereas if I was a shelf-stacker or a cleaner – particularly the latter – I might well feel unimportant and ignored.  Cleaners are almost universally underpaid, taken for granted, ignored and marginalised.  Imagine coming in to work early in the morning, before anyone else is awake, to do a job nobody appreciates or even notices unless it is not done right, and get paid a pittance for the privilege.  One of my recent poems is a response to the ‘Christ on a bench’ sculpture:

and it goes like this:

The Second Coming

If Jesus Christ returned today

no-one would recognise her

before the darkness drives away

she is the morning riser.

she hoovers early corridors

and rides a bleary bus

she clears a porthole in the fog

and looks like one of us.

The idea being, as with the sculpture, that Jesus could be any one of us.  Like the song says in ‘Bruce Almighty,’ What if God was one of us?

And those who expect some glorious triumphant figure entirely miss the point.  I also like the idea of Christ returning as a woman.  Unexpected.

But seriously, what is the point?  What is the point of anything?  What is the point of a new-born baby?  What is the point of philosophy?  Someone asked Socrates that exact question once.  The great philosopher turned to his student and said, ‘This man wishes to profit from learning.  Give him a penny.’  At least, that is the story I read, but now I can’t find it anywhere and even the domestic oracle doesn’t know.  Still, it’s a good story.

Hang on, the oracle now thinks it might be Euclid.  It’s quoted in ‘The Ascent of Man’, which is probably where I remember it from.  Hey, I wonder if philosophy, like history, is what you can remember?  ‘Socrates and All that.’

Ah, now the oracle has found me a reference.  Hang on… yes, the exact quote is ‘Give him threepence, since he must make gain out of what he learns.’

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Euclid

So now you know.

Hang on, what was the point of this post again?

Kirk out

 

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