Aadvarks, Arthur C Clarke, astronauts, fathers, fiction, novelists, novels, Paragraph Planet, poetry, Rattle Tales, science, short stories, starlings, Ted Hughes, writer's block
Here I am two weeks into 2013 and despite my best intentions I am not sticking to my creative resolutions. Like every other writer I set myself the unyielding target of 2,000 words per day, every day. But, like many others I’m sure, I only managed to stick to this target for a matter of days. It’s not that I’m not writing but the first resolution, written in capitals at the top of my list is WRITE SECOND NOVEL IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE YEAR! For the last ten days I have diligently sat down at my desk and tapped away at my brilliant new idea, heartened that it was following a very different trajectory to the one I had envisioned (I always think this is a good thing, that it means it has its own life and that I’m just the means of expression). I appeared to be writing a science fiction novel with a creationist theme, in which the only beings left on earth are six female astronauts, a couple of angels and a whole lot of demons – it’s deep, either that or it’s just plain silly. Around seven days in, a bit like God I imagine, the doubt started to creep in. What am I doing? Do I think I’m Arthur C. Clarke or something? Because of this whispering devil I found myself coming to a standstill, wasting my time researching Hilary Clinton and the Chinese space program on the internet I realised that despite my best intentions I was blocked, the words just weren’t coming.
I’m no stranger to writer’s block. Starlings came to me in a rush, from first sentence to final draft in less than nine months. I was a thing possessed. I just HAD to write it. I have tried to write a second novel three times in the last two years and each time I have failed to get passed 20,000 words. Granted in that time I have completed an MA, helped established Rattle Tales on the spoken word circuit, almost accidentally accumulated a themed short story collection and set up this blog, so it’s not as if I’ve done nothing, but I am getting slightly nervous about my inability to press on with a new novel. I don’t want another false start but the fact is that 2,000 words a day isn’t happening. Who am I kidding? 500 words a day isn’t happening.
Last Christmas my husband Rob gave me a Writer’s Block – a small brick of a book with an idea for beating the block on every page. Should you find yourself creatively stalled you open It at random and follow the instruction, a bit like the creative equivalent of throwing a dice. On Friday, frustrated by several hours at the keyboard with nothing to show, I decided to give it a go, flipped it open and read,
Write A Poem.
This was unexpected, but in fact last year, after a hiatus of around thirty years, I have begun to write poetry on a regular basis. It all started because I wrote a couple of 75 word paragraphs for the website Paragraph Planet. I thoroughly recommend you try this, especially at the start of your writing day; creating a fully-formed mini story certainly helps you focus, my post productive days usually start this way. Because each word is so important I tried to be as poetic as possible in my descriptions in order to make a lasting impression. A startling image sticks in the mind and makes the best use of your 75 words. (You can see my contributions to Paragraph Planet in their archive – there’s also an author interview). I took the first two paragraphs I’d contributed and began to experiment with form to create something more akin to poetry than prose. My friend Lonny, who writes poetry as well as prose, always tells me not to be afraid of poetry, to just give it a go, but most people are terrified of it, even reading it seems scary. I really got into reading poetry when I did my MA. I remember loving it in 6th Form – doesn’t everyone? – Ted Hughes was on the syllabus so that helped, knowing that poems could be written by someone from Yorkshire and still be considered good! After playing around with my paragraphs a bit I came to the conclusion that what I had written were actually a couple of poems, not very accomplished poems, but poems nonetheless. It was fun, deciding where to break lines, which words to rhyme, repeat, what rhythms to use. I’m not saying I’m any good at it but it’s extremely creative and it makes you think in ways you wouldn’t normally, especially about the flow of language.
So, using a poem to help writer’s block appealed to me. This is what I wrote. It’s a first draft – I don’t like the end and it doesn’t flow yet – and if you want to comment on it please feel free. I might go back to it next time I’m blocked so constructive criticism welcome. Now, back to those astronauts…
A Jacket for My Father
There, at the end of the rail,
brown suede with zippered pockets
like snoring eyes
and a soft mocha collar.
I reach out and touch
bringing sleeve to cheek,
and with it, memory
with your bones;
a pit escaped on horseback –
galloping to another hue.
Khaki stripes that saw
the founding of the Jewish State,
and dodged from shells in the East.
You danced to Elvis as a wall erected
piece by piece.
Finding symmetry in a divided place,
Your daughters grew and loved,
stood to attention
as red blossoms fell
like confetti from above.
Grandsons born and never cradled –
the stallion now asleep in his earthen stable.
Do you need help?
She asks, with wry eye and kindly smiles.
Lost in the nap against my cheek,
inside, I yelp and cry
focus its label with my moistened eye.
A jacket for my father,
comes my reply.
This one’s too small
too small by miles.
Laura Wilkinson said:
Good post, Erinna. I’ve a copy of Writers’ Block, though it’s not something I’ve suffered from in any true sense – so far. Never say never, eh? Although I enjoy reaidng it, poetry is something I’ve tended to shy away, writing wise; I’m far too low-brow for such high falutin artistry… or so I’ve assumed. Inspired by your piece I might give it a whirl. It’s the raw emotion of your poem that struck me; touching.
Thanks Laura! Feeling very blocked this year so much going on mentally, but will push on. Writing the poem was fun -‘raw emotion’ I like that!
Laura Wilkinson said:
Ooops, couple of typos there. I’m starving (first day of the 5:2 diet) and I think it’s affecting my brain. Or fingers.
Think poetry is a great unblocker. I use sonnets to unblock. They’re really hard to write well and I find the enforced structure very good for making the rest of my brain get loose and forget that it’s supposed to be doing something constructive on a novel.
Hi Pat, I’ve only just started with the poetry, I usually unblock with a short/flash fiction and thought I’d give poetry a go. I’m nowhere near the discipline of sonnets though! Still blocked but I’ve some deadlines this week THEN i can really knuckle down to it.
Wendy Shillam said:
I enjoyed your moving poem.
We all suffer from word count guilt. But I would advise concerning oneself with quality and not quantity. I rarely manage 1000 words a day – but I try very hard to make each word count. That is what poetry does for us. It makes us realise the value of a few good words.
I suggest you ditch the word counter!