14 April 2008

Writing again

I’m delighted to announce that, after a pretty dry couple of years (following return to full-time work), I’ve managed to get myself back on a poetry-writing roll.

I’m quite a slow poet at the best of times, but the last couple of years I’d only really been tinkering with the poems that are going to be in My Iron Spine (which will be published later this year) and I had written very little new poetry, and nothing that I particularly liked. But now, it’s as if I’ve remembered how to write again, after having somehow forgotten. It’s very exciting.

Rather than actually remembering how to write, I think I’ve been remembering some habits and circumstances that help me write. During the (almost) year I took off from paid employment, I’d spend my mornings at home working on my attempts at a screenplay and a novel; and in the afternoons I’d wander round (especially if it was sunny), read poetry books and write poetry – usually in cafes. I wrote a lot of poetry that year – virtually all of My Iron Spine.

So the first thing I’ve been doing is stopping off at cafe once or twice a week on my way home, and writing. I’ve found that being somewhere things are going on, but where you don’t have to pay any attention to them, helps make a magical space in my head for poetry. Writing at home is a nice idea, but there are usually too many distractions there: dishes, cooking, emailing, chatting partners or so forth. I always think it will be lovely to write out in my courtyard garden, but when I do I spend at least half my time staring at the weeds and thinking about how I ought to pull them out (though not actually doing it, you understand).

The second thing I’ve remembered from working on My Iron Spine is that typing up poems – and then printing them out and scribbling on them – is an essential part of my writing process. I write my poems initially in my notebook, which I carry around with me almost always (I’ve had a long succession of these, and now know that they must have lined leaves, wiro binding and something pretty on the cover). But I need to transfer the poems out of the book and into the computer – usually tinkering with phrasing and line breaks as I go. Not only does it make it easier to edit, but it also makes it real. Making the poem concrete like that makes it easier to judge. It came as a shock to me when I realised a couple of months ago that I hadn’t typed poems up for over a year.

The third thing that’s got me back on the poetry roll is having a project. I think I work best when I have projects – when my artistic endeavours aren’t just all by themselves but are part of a greater whole. My Iron Spine really got rolling when I figured out that the book was going to be biographical and autobiographical, with the central theme of the ‘iron spine’. My current project is writing poems that take films as a starting point. They’re not usually re-tellings of the film’s story, though a few have been; they’re usually sort of musings on what the film sparks in my imagination. I often work with strong images or symbols from the movie, or what it seems to mean. My first attempts weren’t so great (though hopefully some can be saved with careful crafting, now that I’ve typed them up), but I’m really happy with some of the later ones.
The final thing I’m doing to keep me inspired to write is actually a new thing, which is writing short weekly reports about my writing and then sending them to a friend. She, in turn, is reporting on her writing to me. We haven’t been doing it for very long, but I’m finding it an added motivation – I want to be able to say I’ve done something each week. Also, it will mean that I can look back over them and be pleased with how much I’ve done.


Tim Jones said...

That is good news, and I look forward to seeing what results! I'm the opposite at the moment: I've written very few new poems, and only a couple that I'm even partially happy with, in the past year. Instead, my whole orientation at present is towards fiction, and what writing ideas I have are ideas for fiction.

Do you ever find that, if you're thinking of ideas that fit one area of your writing, it makes it harder to be active in the other areas?

Colleen said...

Hooray! Congrats on being back on a roll. Those dry spells are tough, but it always feels good (if exhausting) to be back making art. I'm looking forward to My Iron Spine!

Helen said...

That IS good news! Looking forward to seeing the finished book :)

Helen Rickerby said...

Aw, guys! You warm my heart. Thanks very much.