Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Blank Page: A Few Thoughts on Writing

Writing is a funny thing. I do so much of it. Often I feel like I know nothing – at other times that I’ve got it reasonably sorted, that I know how to arrange words and sound out their rhythms. Those are rare, wonderful moments, but significant ones. They must be rare though. I’m still negotiating this medium, continually learning the art of a good sentence, the ways to tailor cadence. The more I feel it out the more I love it, my lines and paragraphs becoming supple material to work with; to hew, construct, assemble, polish to the right pitch. 

It’s an ongoing process of learning and refining, so I find it interesting that I’m sometimes asked for tips from others - receiving emails requesting advice. I have to admit this is something that still feels strange. The questioning tends to fall into three categories: the first to do with improving one’s own writing, the second asking where I find ideas, and the third addressing ‘success’, however that may be defined. Even though I don’t feel hugely qualified to answer any of them, a few scattered thoughts came to mind – and I may as well set them down.

First – how to improve? Well the easiest way forwards is practice. Write and write and write. Having a blog for nearly six years has been the most invaluable structure for me, needing self-imposed commitment week in and week out. I may look back on posts from several years ago and wince at the grammar, but I can only do that because I’ve improved through constantly working at it. Moving from ‘not-so-good’ to ‘better’ requires as much typing/ scribbling/ scrawling as you can regularly achieve. It also helps to look at it all with critical perspective – and never get complacent. Where do you want to go next? Is it worth pushing yourself out of the usual comfort zone to do so? If a section doesn't flow, why - and how can you rectify it?

On a more general note, reading things aloud usually reveals a multitude of (small) sins like repeated words, labored images or overly long, baggy sentences. I just cast an eye back over my last few lines and realized I’d used the word ‘only’ in three adjacent sentences. Two of them have gone now.

The flipside to ‘write, write, write’ is ‘read, read, read.’ Read anything and everything. Read it, then question what you like – and what you don’t. Whose style and thoughts do you admire most? For me at the moment, that list includes Jeanette Winterson, Siri Hustvedt, Alan Garner, Laurie Lee, Anne Fadiman, Margaret Mahy and Virginia Woolf. A mix of essayists and novelists (some are both). All treat language as both tool and craft. And these are just a few of the writers I admire on the printed page, before we even get to the multitude I read online... 

Second – how to find ideas? I’m definitely not the best person to ask here. I tend to dream up too many then fail to find the time for completion. They spring up from all sorts of places, whether an in-depth conversation with a friend, a book I’ve read, an exhibition I saw, an idle musing inspired by too much time on Twitter… You get the idea. Most are united though in my desire to question, explore, celebrate or interrogate a thought; giving it room to be rolled around, unraveled, and hopefully pieced back together again. Essentially, be open to what’s around you, and zone in on what you find interesting. Also, if in doubt, brainstorm and work through knotted ideas with ink - bullet points, arrows and squiggled lists galore.

Third – how to find ‘success’? Oh lord. I kind of didn’t want to include this, as my ambitions stretch so far into the future that I can’t see (and wouldn’t want to know) the end-point. I feel I’m hardly started. But I guess if we break it down to the basics of “how does one end up writing for particular platforms?” then there are a few practical pointers. One is that the two principles above come first. You have to be willing to learn, to tweak your voice and content for a particular audience, to come up with new ideas all the time. After that, it’s a lot of unsuccessful pitching, the almost certain belief you’ll never get there, quite a bit of legwork (usually for free), the sacrifice of lots of spare time, a pinch of luck, and the occasional gleam of opportunity. Enter writing competitions. Begin a blog. Get yourself on social media. Take small chances in the hope that later they’ll lead to bigger ones. Networking helps too, both in person and online. It’s an unfortunate name for an activity that, if genuine, should be about having a deep-felt interest in others – rather than some cynical way of viewing people only in terms of what they can give you. Tirelessly create your opportunities – and be open to those that come your way.

I guess the fourth point to all of this is that every writer has a different trajectory, and way of doing things. So many love to write about writing, packaging up their personal experience of pitching and publishing then delivering it as general truth. Of course we all have our own quirks and interests and means of getting our work done. So maybe some of this will be relevant, maybe none of it. Who am I to say anything with more authority than another?

(Fifth - When finished I read this aloud to someone else, and as a result made at least ten tweaks, deletes, word changes and clarifications. Apt, really...)

The link to the outfit? Well of course daaaaarlings, this is exactly the kind of thing I sit down in at my desk for a day of work - boots and all. I jest. It's not far off though. The mornings when I write sometimes take place in pyjamas, at others in full-length dresses, floaty smocks or great shirts. No regular uniform, so to speak. This just slots in among the rest. And, of course, everything here is second hand. 


Anupriya DG said...

Writing is, indeed, an art. One that you can never stop learning.
I think you are amazingly good at it. I can go on reading the words that come out of your fast-typing fingertips! <3

P.S.: Can't really take my eyes off those great boots! :)

mariafelicia magno said...

nice floral shirt

Closet Fashionista said...

I wish I was as talented as you when it comes to writing. Sadly words never come easily to me and I type much like I talk. I have been starting to read more now, after a few years of avoiding it, ha ha.
Loving that floral print, great color combo!

Izzy DM said...

All really great advice and helpful words, Roz. Haven't heard of all the writers you mentioned... so you'll have to mention them again :)!! My backlog of books is getting insane. And yet, when I recently won an Honorable Mention in a flash fiction contest, I put every penny of my winnings into books, including a second copy of "The Bloody Chamber", which I used to own, and which your blog has convinced me I must reread. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on perspective), there aren't any used bookstores here, barring the Goodwill, which I plunder often, but Amazon (evil as it is, I know) is becoming even more dangerous. I read a list like yours, and I have to restrain myself from immediately looking up and purchasing copies of everything. However, at least you can purchase books through third-party vendors there, so that makes me feel a little better about it, and, even with crazy shipping costs, I stretched my $20 gift card to five books, hooray!

Anyway, great, practical advice. I know blogging really helped me start to take my writing career from hobby to profession, and that was a tip I picked up from you...oh years ago now. Wow. I'm going to break one of my own cardinal rules and use a cliche: time really does fly. So glad to see you are making so much of it!


Willow said...

I actually find blank pages, on both sketchpads and notebooks, really sexy - not in a sexual way, if that makes any sense; the word just feels right. Do you know what I mean? I hope I don't sound like a moron right now...

Ah, yes, the repetitive words, I am SO guilty of that, especially with adjectives like 'wonderful'. Unfortunately those are the little things that make me insecure and stop me from practicing. I'm trying to remember to just write; with no agenda or plan to ever publish it, to just get it all down and not worry about getting the right words until later so that I don't get too pedantic while I'm writing, because that's what either stops me in my tracks or makes my words sound really strained.

I know it's natural to be insecure about your own work, but I love your writing; it's clever, open minded, well structured, creative, direct, and engaging. I think you'll go far (well, you already have, but I mean REALLY far...)
I've finally caught up on the posts of yours that I'd missed, and it was like a really nice treat to read them all in one go. I won't annoy you by commenting on every single one, so I'll just say I loved them and, like usual, found them thought-provoking, interesting, powerful, inspiring, and really moving.

Hope you enjoyed/are enjoying your holidays! xx

P.S. Sorry if this posts twice

Vix said...

Even after six years it still takes me an age to write a blog post. I'll type it out, realise I've used the same word four times and it doesn't read as I speak, too stilted and A Level English-like!
Fine outfit for any occasion! xxx

Melanie said...

Great post. I entered a short story competition not long ago and didn't win. I was crushed. O simply said, you'll have to change how you write. I was shocked. I had never heard that before nor contemplated the thought that my writing could be CHANGED somehow. OF COURSE IT CAN! And I'll be a better person for it. Just not sure I want to be. Heh. Your writing will take you far. Love your secondhand duds!


I think one should always be open to learning, even if we are proficient in our craft. It helps with balance and to also perfect our artistry. I generally write how I speak, but I imagine in real life it's slightly more animated, as I often talk with my hands ... Quite a struggle, nonetheless at times not to, even when I read a post aloud. :)The pale pink/coral combination blends marvellously together in your outfit. Very lovely and smart colour accents of olive and hunter green in the photos.

Lola Byatt said...

All great advice! You do have an incredible way of words. Your posts are the only ones where I skim pasts the outfits and absorb the text. That's not to say you don't have a wonderful way of putting together an outfit (this is what attracted me to your blog in the first place, a picture i stumbled on via instagram) but I love your sentences! I love to write but I seem to be way too self critical of myself to ever share. My lengthy posts stay hidden in my "drafts" folders or notebooks. I really must push myself to take advantage of my blog to write, as it might get me into a routine. You are definitely an inspiration <3

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