Monday, 11 June 2012

The Process of Writing

Bluebells are a motif both in my life and on my blog. The reason for their recurring appearances in photos is easy to explain – they are glorious and intriguing. They illuminate any image caught during their month’s blooming, but they are also frail, their stalks curving in the evening light; single bells suspended, but silent. They are a symbol of the twisted natural world where trees’ branches bend, shells are spiraling cones and bluebells have hunched backs. All subtly remind me of my previously kinked spine. My vertebrae resembled a bowed trunk or an ivy trail – my torso an example of nature’s unpredictable grasp. Perhaps this is why I return to these structures. They are proof that beauty doesn't have to be symmetrical or perfect.

These forms pop up regularly in my posts, exemplifying some of the persistent themes I return to. Something written in one article is expanded in another, perhaps inspiring a new thread or idea. The writing aspect of each post is my favourite part. It is also the trickiest - a process of taking the real, solid, observable world and translating parts of it into words and paragraphs. Thoughts snatched, plucked or painstakingly dredged become definite on the page and screen. Some are easier to articulate than others. I often feel like I'm grasping at something slightly out of the frame, fighting with letters and punctuation to make them sound and mean as intended.

I am, however, occasionally asked for tips on how to write. I find this hard to answer for several reasons. Although I want to devote my career to working with words, I regularly feel my own age limitations when it comes to what I write – sometimes only being able to outline things in my head rather than pin them down. I have a huge amount to learn and refine, which can only be achieved by continuing to practise, practise and practise some more. I am a novice, or perhaps an apprentice to writing. Also, the process is different for everyone. Some find their ‘voices’ relatively easily, while others struggle for years. I am still stretching out to explore the different possibilities and directions of mine.

But, there are several things that may help generally to improve writing, and they're tips that I try to stick to. The first is to read. Read the great authors and personal favourites to develop critical awareness of different approaches and voices, and then analyse the books you didn’t find brilliant for a lesson in what not to do. Then write. Write and revise, redraft at least twice, re-edit, polish several times, and then again after that. Check whether there any hidden words that snag like a thread caught on a thorn. Remove them. And if necessary, take apart and start again. Half the work is in removing sentences that don’t fit, letting the text become supple rather than slack or overly tense and loaded down. Read out loud and request an honest opinion from someone else. Be prepared to accept criticism, however much it hurts.

Constructive criticism is invaluable. This is not the irrelevant kind found in the one star reviews on Amazon – revelling in extensive moaning or offence – but the type integral to the process of learning to write, or work in any other creative area. Feedback may be painful, but it gives the rigour and technical grounding needed to improve. My mum tells me off for splitting infinitives or for adding in unnecessary adjectives, and slowly this has, I hope, filtered through so that I can pick up on the errors myself. To be able to criticize your own work and see its strengths and weaknesses means that then it can be improved and bettered. Each new piece is built on the foundations of what was written before.  

For me, the compulsion to write is driven by wanting to express my thoughts, feelings and observations about the world around me. I know my work is usually flowery – I am fond of similes and metaphors to conjure vivid images. I also have a never-ending fascination with the countryside, with clothes, with photography, with the past, and these themes seam themselves through my posts – as cyclical as the appearance of bluebells each year. 

My friend Flo, who is a sweet and beautiful person as well as a very talented photographer, took these photos as part of an extended two-way shoot during the recent flash of sun. We concluded the day with afternoon tea, a local play and then wine under the stars. I like the very naturalistic feel to these images, with a vintage dress and second hand jewellery. It's a pleasure to work with Flo wielding the camera, and I can always rely on the results to be fantastic. 
A final point on the subject of portrayals. Below are two portraits of me done by two wonderful artists. The first is by Lisa Jiang, a student with an incredible eye for faces, and the second by Andrea Barja, a South American illustrator whose drawings are often inspired by past decades. The two artworks arrived in quick succession in my inbox, and I was truly astounded that two such creative individuals had taken the time to draw me! Thank you so much to both. 



Reyna @fashionmist♥ said...

Lovely post and beautiful photos! xx

Penny Dreadful Vintage said...

I definitely agree with what you are saying - to write well, you need to read... and, well, write. There is no point learning something in theory, you need to do it again and again to get better, the same as any other skill. Even rules aren't much help, because many of the best writers break all the formal rules and are still incredible.

Love the picture by Lisa, isn't it beautiful.

Penny Dreadful Vintage

ZoƩ said...

Lovely post as always - I always love the slightly wild side to what you create in terms of outfits. For example, this green dress with your hair gives you an elfin air which really suits your slightly ethereal beauty. I must also praise how well written this post is - a sincere pleasure to read! :)

Absolutely marvellous! Xx

Anonymous said...

You are doing great wish you luck.

Melissa Renee said...

I love your blog! Your photos are amazing and I love the honesty in your writing.

God bless,
Melissa Renee

Becky said...

Such an interesting post! As a teacher, I spend my life trying to improve children's writing. I am absolutely firm in my belief that reading a huge variety of texts embeds writings styles and techniques.

Of course, reading the same text type or genre only reinforces understanding of that style. I encourage my children to read magazines, comics, newspapers, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, anything they can get their hands on.


Sara said...

I have always wanted to improve my skills in writing, thank you for your tips! You are really good writer, I think I will now go and and read, read and read :)
Ps: You look fantastic, these photos are stunning! :))

Ladylike Delicacy

Megan June said...

I adore your writing style. Personally, I think you already have a very strong voice in writing, especially for your age. I'm still trying to find my voice, so I always admire writers who have found their voice and are striving to strengthen it.

Beautiful writing. Beautiful photos. As usual!


Fashionistable said...

Wonderful advice to any aspiring writer. Flo has indeed taken a great set of images of you. And the 2 illustrations oh wow, 2 very different styles but both capture you brilliantly. Xxxx

Willow said...

I am so envious of this location and those gorgeous flowers! When I look at the photos on your blog I constantly think about the weather and seasons - you have snow in Winter, the flowers and sunshine in Spring, the light in Summer, and the unmistakable rich colours of Autumn.
Where I live, sometimes the temperature is barely different.

I always love your writing and how it has such rich words, is well thought, and has a beautiful flow to it. I suppose everyone has an age limitation but you are certainly very mature for your age in your writing and observations.

Gorgeous photos, Flo is very talented! Sounds like you had a very fun day. I love the artworks, Lisa definitely got those eyes exactly right!

Thank you for your lovely comment on my blog, always appreciated.

Melanie said...

The concept of perfection found in flaws resonates with me. If I Finish a painting, close every open loop, balance every uneven corner, I will want to rip it up in disgust. If I keep that tension, the loose bits, the broken bits, I will grow to love that piece, but it has been a struggle to find peace with this open-endedness. The chaos, the jewels among the garbage - this is where I find beauty. I like this post. Barefoot in the forest is a grim fairytale image in the true sense, the top layer of delicacy and then the bottom layer of vulnerability, the forest floor of thorns and stings. I like the edge in your writing. Those are lovely paintings by your friends.

Anna said...

Amazing photos!!!

Anna said...

Amazing photos!!!


You are a wonderful writer who has a lot to say, because in the end,it is not words, but the sould of the writing through the words what counts.
I am forever proud to be, somehow, close to you.

Sasha said...

The first painting of you is so amazing! <3

Katrina said...

wow those drawing are amazing! I love what you wrote on the subject - I feel quite the same when it comes to creative writing. And the photos are gorgeous as always - the dress is especially mesmorizing)


Stephanie Hoff Clayton said...

Agreed - writing well begins with reading. A lot. :)
You are lovely in breezy aqua!

OrigamiGirl said...

I agree that you need to read to write. If just to give you a broader vocabulary and greater subject matter. It is always fascinating to come across writers whose prose is unlike anything you have read before.

I have a post typed up and not yet posted on my blog about how much I want to improve my writing, but even more to improve my imagination -and I don't know where you get training for that.

Thank you for your comment on my blog too. It makes me delightfully happy that you did, especially as it's such a small blog. :) Smoke and Mirrors is great train reading. You can read a story, then think on it as you look out a window, then move to the next story. (I am going through a phase of short story anthologies on my commute to work and recommend it). Also, if you haven't already -read the Sandman.

Fashion Tales.... said...

I always thoroughly enjoy reading your writing and am quite fond of metaphorical style of writing. I definitely agree, reading much helps tremendously with perfecting your writing, as well as constructive criticism. Have a joyous week lovely.

Ireland Casswell-Clarkson said...

The portraits of you are a very intriguing,I love the dark tones in the water colour drawing.
The teal colour of your dress offsets the stunning country side. Quite a marvellous post to look at.

Thrifted Shift said...

I'm so happy you wrote about bluebells again, your birthday post words are still resonating. I absolutely agree with you that good writers read lots of good work, revise, take criticism, and sometimes salvage only a few phrases before drafting again.

Vanessa, Take only Memories said...

So lovely! The dress is perfect for you! And those portraits are just gorgeous!

Leigh Ann said...

The blue is perfect on you!

The Foolish Aesthete said...

I think you've had a tremendous head start in finding your own voice, considering you are still in the flower of youth. Most writers seem to have manes of silver by the time their own voices are heard!

I often like to read about writers, what they read, and how they write. Given his recent passing, I've just read a lot on Ray Bradbury (and am enjoying re-reading his novels, poetic beyond most science fiction.) He had a method of writing any words that had been circling in his dreams the moment he awoke, every single day of his life. These sub-conscious words would then weave themselves into tales, organically, like vines crawling up a trellis. I thought, what an interesting way to create.

Lovely images, both photographed and illustrated! -- J xx

Toshiko Shek said...

roz, you look lovely! i love the field of flowers against your teal dress! so magical!

SabinePsynopsis said...

I'm anything but a writer, but definitely agree... READING and LIVING! Just living one's life comes with many lessons and insights.
Flo's photos of you are so beautiful - she is a very gifted photographer.

Jean at said...

I wish I could remember who said this, but I believe it was a famous author writing a letter. They said (approximately), "Forgive me for the length of this letter. I lacked the time to make it short." I can relate to this quote and to this post!!

I'm personally enjoying the writing aspects of blogging even more than the clothing. Taking the time to craft each post as an entity, making sure it's cohesive and can stand on it's own, is a joy and challenge.

Your posts make me less afraid of words and more willing to grapple with them, even if it means losing the "common denominator" reader.

Not Just A Pretty Dress said...

Rosalind, thank you for sharing your advice and I agree with you that reading and 'the experience of the world' (it sounds very Jane Austen, isn't it?!) are two fundamental components. I'm sure you can become a wonderful writer and I really wish you all the best...

It's really curious to see how these artists portrayed you. Both so different, yet capturing some details of your character and features.

Daysha said...

Wow, these are beautiful pictures! So happy to find your lovely blog!

Amelia Grace said...

This post is beautiful. The combination of your writing and your photographs gives so much inspiration.

I read in the author's note of a book once that the best way to get better at writing is to read and notice. Ever since then, I've read with a different mindset. I try now to note the flow of the words and find the mistakes. If a sentence sounds awkward, I figure out a way to reword it, and I don't continue reading until I have figured out a better sentence structure. If I read a phrase that makes me feel scrumptious inside, I write it down or say it over and over in my head, not trying to think about the words, but the sounds and the way the syllables roll off of the tongue when read aloud. I think that the new way of reading has helped me learn more about words and the art of arranging them. Your advice is very good and heartily received. Thank you. :)

Joanna said...

I stumbled upon your blog. You are certainly wise beyond your years:) You are very photogenic. Lovely images. Your portrait piece is amazing!


Now i want a blue dress... the 2nd shot from the end is so good.

100%soie said...

wow, still beautiful in blue !!! I bought a dress with this soft colour, I always wear it !!! you look perfect on the tree, what a beautiful post !

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