Category Archives: Writing

Ideas – They Don’t Just Pop Into Your Head

I’d say the greatest challenge for a writer is quite a simple on actually. It’s not writing well, or getting published. Even at a push, I’d say it’s not about staying motivated either. It’s having lots of ideas.

When we think about writing, we have this notion that ideas are the one thing you can’t change. Either you have a good idea or you don’t, either you can think up of many ideas or you can’t. It’s a bit of a naive attitude though, because it relies on the fact that ideas for writing simply stroll into our heads, that we have sudden moments of creative genius that happen outside of our control. It’s sensationalist, and encouraged because of its appeal, but it doesn’t do much good in reality.

If a writer were to say the idea for their entire book just walked fully formed into their head, I’d tell them to stop being overly dramatic. What are ideas? They’re by no means so tidy or obedient even. When you pause to break it down, the idea for a work is more of a single one, a stub, a starting point. One idea might be something very simple, and as you think about it, you come up with more. Whenever I write, I start with a small idea in mind. It’s my goal for what I’m going to do. Then as I continue, I get more ideas the more I think. I don’t just sit there waiting for inspiration to hit me, I ask myself questions about the idea I’ve had. Sometimes I get answers. Sometimes I don’t. But it creates more ideas for you to play with, rather than struggling with just one.

In reality, a story is an amalgamation of many ideas. One idea starts the process off, but then others join it. Some contradict each other, and some turn the story away from your original idea. But as you ask yourself questions, you build up a single, cohesive story. It’s like building a rubber band ball. You start with the first one, and as you add more the ball takes shape, until all those rubber bands behave like a single ball, rather than a pile of them.

So, you can think creatively by asking yourself questions. That’s a start, but it’s still limited in boosting your imagination. I’m not going to launch into a long paragraph about reading other books, because that’s a stock response. I’d say, read a selection of books. Ones that interest you, ones that you know nothing about. Even ones you think you won’t like. Don’t stop with contemporary fiction, but go back in time. Have a dig. Don’t limit yourself to fiction, but look at non-fiction. History is a very good place to come up with ideas, as you ask “what if” questions as you read. What if Rome didn’t fall? You can have some fun with that. Even then, I’d encourage brave writers to read philosophy. Stories will give you ideas for events, and philosophy will give you understanding of different modes of thought, which means, better characterisation.

Life experience is a great asset too. You know how looking back at your past work is almost always something that makes you cringe? That’s greater experience talking. How can you make your work better? By going out and living. Gain experiences, don’t just slave away at the keyboard. You can draw inspiration from the experiences you’ve had yourself, and the great thing about this is that it is free, and it’s going on all the time. If you can travel, then do, but if you can’t try to experience other cultures. Books, encyclopaedias, TV, these will all give you experience.

Ideas aren’t just a solitary affair. Have willing volunteers read your work. Discuss ideas. It’s always good to have friends that are writers for this purpose, and even better if you have a mentor. So in short, there are things you can do to have more ideas. It isn’t just about creativity on its own, because it is extremely hard to pull something from nothing, even if it is in your head. Experimentation is key, and you must not limit yourself by sticking to only what you like.

My question is how do you come up with ideas? Do you struggle, or do you have too many?

Responding To Criticism

Oh, this is one of the ‘fun’ bits of writing that should come with a warning. How do you deal with criticism?

Firstly to use an apt cliché, writing is a school of hard knocks. It’s true. You’ve written something, you’re sure you’ve perfected it, and then some person comes and insensitively points out all the things you’ve done wrong. It’s not nice, and there is no softening it. The first time you receive criticism like this, you might cry. You’re very likely to discount it, to push it out of your mind.

So how do you cope with it? We all know that criticism is ultimately good for us as it helps us improve in the long-term, but that doesn’t make you feel any better at the time.

I think the first thing to set straight is your mental attitude. Realise that the reason criticism affects you so is because you care about what you do. You take pride in it, and you’ve worked hard. You haven’t produced some half-baked attempt and tried to wing it. Once you’ve seen the feedback, don’t dwell on it. Try to take your mind off it, go and unwind. It never helps to undertake something when you’re upset. So recognise how you are feeling and don’t do anything until your emotions are in check. Only then will you be able to respond positively and logically.

When reading through criticism, you need to determine what stance the person has taken. Is it feedback, or is it criticism? I was misleading you with the last sentence, because feedback and criticism are the same thing, except we interpret criticism as negative.

Feedback, criticism or critique should mean to you anything that is measured, positive or constructive. It might point out your mistakes, but it should do so in a way that is not a personal attack on you, or treats your work in a derogatory fashion. It should give advice and point out flaws, but don’t mistake honesty as an attack on you. It never helps to read sugar-coated feedback, and sometimes things just have to be said as they are.

But what about the negative, the feedback that clearly is written with no intention to help you? I’ve got a word for that. Rubbish. You laugh, and you leave it. Why? Sometimes it’s clear that the person has no idea what they’re talking about. Other times, it’s blindingly obvious that they’re just trying to hurt and insult you. It’s perfectly legitimate to write some people off – don’t feel obliged to take into consideration everything everyone says.

Now, what do you do with the feedback that you haven’t thrown in the bin? Read it carefully, read it slowly. Be logical and objective. Remember, if this person has taken time to point out the problems in your writing, they want to help you. But what if they aren’t using the critique sandwich? Start with the good points, then move into the problems, and then finish with what was liked. What if it’s just all about the problems?

Well, I’m that type of critic. It’s not because I want to belittle the writer, make them feel bad, imply that there is nothing they did well or even try to impose my own authority upon them. It’s simply because when I read critically, I spend my time writing on what can be done better, not what is already done well. If you’re strapped for time, you probably will do this.

This is a small tangent, but it’s something I think both writers and critics should understand. Sometimes  when you’re giving feedback, you just don’t have anything negative to say. Stop the presses, that’s something a good critic should never do right? Wrong. There is no shame in standing up and saying to someone “you know I’m sitting here reading through your work and I can’t find anything wrong“. In fact, I was asked to beta-read a story for a friend this summer, and while I had a slight pick at the first chapter, I’m waiting until he is online again before I tell him that he doesn’t need me to critique it. It’s good. It doesn’t make you a bad critic. It doesn’t mean you weren’t being critical enough. I believe it makes you more legitimate in your feedback by saying this, instead of proceeding to talk about non-existent problems.

Let’s get back to the main point then. How do you cope with feedback? To summarise, you leave it, you get yourself in order. You then read it carefully. You decide whether the feedback is legitimate or not. Then you act on it.

You should never, never, respond to feedback when you first receive it. You’ll be emotional, you won’t think straight. You’ll misinterpret, and you could go to the nuclear option. That is, you could delete your entire work and say you’ll start again.

Never delete anything you write – that is the cardinal sin as far as I’m concerned. You have the ability to re-draft as many times as you want. So don’t got and delete your work – because all you’re doing is reinforcing negative emotions about your writing and destroying any progress you’ve made.

Deleting an re-writing is not progress. It is not re-drafting. It is undoing the progress you’ve made. It is quite literally, trying to write something perfect from scratch. I need not tell you how silly that is.

Consistency In Worldbuilding

One of the best things about being a writer is creating a world. You get to create something that no one else has, and as you work on it more, you bring your vision to life. World building is satisfying, but it’s tricky too. You can easily build a world, but how do you make it believable, how do you draw people into it? I tend to find that some worlds suffer quite generally from what I’d call cultural inconsistency. It means what it says on the tin, quite bluntly, the cultures existing in that world don’t add up.

The best example of this is in language and place names. When creating the world map, it’s hard to resist letting lose the floodgates and going with any name you think of. On the flip side if you struggle with names, you can be clawing at your head to come up with one name, let alone a bunch of them to choose from. One of the results is that your map seems to just have a random selection of names on it. Names need to be consistent – for example you wouldn’t have two characters from the same culture with two vastly different names. Does that sound picky? Perhaps a bit, but if we take a look at a map of our own world, you see similarities between the names of places in that country. I’m British, so I’ll see Warwickshire, Yorkshire, and so on. They’ consistent.

When to comes to that fantasy world, you’re ideally looking for the same consistency. Sure, there can be exceptions, as there are in real life, but they aren’t numerous. Some readers will tolerate a lot; especially because fantasy might be the genre that they love anyway, but others won’t. As a writer these days it doesn’t work to make your writing fit into too small a niche. For me, seeing a fantasy world that is consistent implicitly tells me that it is well constructed and thought out. Readers can be picky, and believe me, if you world looks, sounds or feels like it’s some sort of Frankenstein’s monster, readers can lose their suspension of disbelief.

It’s all easily remedied though. Instead of leaping straight into your new world, plan it. Figure out what the fundamentals are for each culture you introduce. Standing back objectively is hard to do when you’re passionate about something, but paying close scrutiny to creating a world that is consistent will pay off the effort you put in. As a final little example, take a look at a map of Middle-Earth. Now, because it’s the cultures are consistent, it feels like a real map someone made for the world, not a map that someone made of a world.

Flash Fiction – Revelry

The darkness crept. Every creature slipped underneath tides of slumber. Eventide rolls overhead, pinpricks of light meddling between dark waves. Blackness paints the forest with its dye; the looming branches harbouring greater darkness underneath once green leaves.

Piercing through; inklings of white starlight dot the celestial canvas, but all laud the rise of the luminous orb, shimmering silver shingles between skeletal trunks. The light acquiesces, waxes, softening the dark, mixing their dyes,  but rendering the light brighter and the dark far darker.

My lunar mistress rises high, taking upon her centre stage. The curtain falls, our first act beginning. I gaze up on high, the surround stillness itself; dead of night. Now, away from prying eyes in the night, my revelry takes hold; a transformation into something wild. She bids me dance, and on all fours I oblige. I leer upwards at the silver dots, weaving between darkened trunks, my mind as changed as my body. She beams brighter upon me, imploring me to dance further.

I bring my voice to laud her, words fall away to sing the lunar melody. I beseech her journey across the dark tides, my song fading between my lips as I speed after her on silent feet. As we reach our peak, the frenzy continues, others joining to revel in our moonlit sonata.

But the night of full celebration wanes on the celestial tides, my mistress’s hold over me weakening. The waters recede, my madness lessening. The tendrils of dawn lap away at the final pools of darkness. And, with a withering scene, banishes my mistress.

Sitting on a Story – What Frustrates You Most About Writing?

The question is, what is the single most frustrating thing about writing? Is it writer’s block? Motivation? Staying positive? What is the the absolute thing that makes you gnash your teeth or your stomach turn?

For me, it’s sitting on a story. And I hate it.

By default, I’ve always thought myself as a novelist. My very first forays into writing were not short stories or pieces of poetry, but attempts to flesh out entire novels from the start. I just leapt into doing it, and it feels right for me. I’m a sucker for character driven narratives, so when it comes to developing characters I’m straight out there using the longest format that allows me to develop them. In fact, the very first novel I finished (just in terms of writing the first draft) was a first person present narrative that took over 140,000 words to get to the final word. Writing that was tough, it had its issues, but what irritates me most is now having to sit on a completed work, either editing it or just leaving it to gather virtual dust on my computer.

Part of the reason I write is because I enjoy telling people stories. I quite simply like it when people like what I write. Sometimes I have an idea that I’m really buzzing about, but I’ve got to sit on the story for various reasons. I want to hear what people think. It’s what makes writing rewarding for me.

The solution should be simple. Post it online. Publish. Self-publish. I should have no excuse to sit on it. But there’s a number of reasons why I’m not. I’ll be brief, but my head tells me to wait. I want to finish my course and university without having publishing ventures worry me. I also want to wait for all the issues going on within the publishing industry to work out.

So in the mean time, I’m here writing novels that no-one else can read.

Flash Fiction: The Cusp

The flame was brief – an orange streak, naked, guarded by closed hands. In the dark it would take a while to see again. It instead left all the more time to remember the brief sight, a glimpse of a taut jaw, a creased brow . There were eyes in the glimpse, but the light was just lost in them.

Smoke caught in my nose, exhaled every time the cigarette glowed brightly. It used to make me cough, but time has worn me down. We stood there in silence – he smoked to give his hands something to do as the wait drew on. Without light, time was unknown. A minute or ten of them, thirty perhaps? I don’t care – it leaves only the moment.

I press my hand against the pistol in my breast pocket, the weight of it reassuring as my heart thumps against it.

“They’re late.”

I get a grunt of a reply in turn. Obviously they’re late. He doesn’t want me here – he doesn’t want to mind me. He always worked on his own, but everyone said I needed to learn somehow.

You have to learn in the field. It doesn’t do to just be told.

He shoves his hand roughly against my chest. Cigarette? I shake my head – I know he’s doing the same.

“Kid like you should smoke.”

I hold silence. He said it would settle the nerves.

What am I doing here? It’s a thought begrudged. The lecture theatre was stuffy. Dry, with the dulcet warble of academics and everyone walked about with no consideration – bodies were just mounts for brains. Nothing missed – you die and what is there to show for it? Nothing, all is to dust. It all means nothing. It only means a thrill. Doing this, you can get lost in the moment. A wild moment. When everything is falling apart around you it’s fun to throw your arms up.

Here I am, waiting in darkness – not just the night but not in my head too. I don’t know what’s going to happen. This isn’t safe. I love it.

Two beams glare over the hill. My partner hisses – unsubtle of them, but there is no light to see. The truck rumbles to a halt and points its headlights at us.

“Wait here.”

Of course, he knows. What other play is there though? This is wrong. All wrong. The lights should be off. They should be closer. We both know – and can do nothing.

I hear the gunshot before the trigger is pulled. He’s dead, spread over the ground. His light glows for a moment, then the speck dims. No fuss, nothing poetic about that – a little puff of smoke for a last breath.

I run. Run on. Run away from a car? They must be leaving me. Didn’t expect there to be two. He probably garbled to them I was a rookie – useless at that. He might be a crook, but I wouldn’t hold that against him. Sad, I never did know his name. I’ll remember him for the cigarettes then. Someone has to remember him.

I knew better to run back to the car. They’d have taken care of that. I don’t need to return to the others – they’ll know it went up by now. No one works strictly on ceremony. There’s no loose end to tie up here. I’m an end with no weight. I want to throw my arms up as I run, so I do. The still air feels soft between my fingers. It’s easy to run at night too, the air is so cool. I could almost forget it was my life I was running for.

I can feel the bullets whiz through the air next to me. I want to laugh. I try not to. It comes out as a muffled guffaw. I should feel fear. I think I do; there’s some sort of worry churning in my stomach. But the thrill overrides everything else.

I should worry about this. I shouldn’t be enjoying this. But I know I’m alive now, I can feel it in the fine space between the two. I wonder if there’s some revelation to come? I feel on the cusp-

The name doesn’t stand out in the column, it just blends in with all the other characters on the page. Indistinct. Eyes pass over it, but it means nothing. His name is just that of a stranger.

“… died of gunshot wounds, outside St. Louis in the early hours of Saturday morning.”

There were a few comments.

“… bright… promising in studies. Taking a degree at St. Louis University. Tragically killed in the crossfire.”

06/12/1925.

It Belongs In A Museum, Not A Bin – The Problem With Literary Canon

It’s no lie. I would without hesitation throw away many literary classics for being dull, contrived and boring. I can imagine that will upset some people reading this, but I have reasoning.

For instance, let’s ask why some books are ‘classics’ in the first place, and not others. With all artistic endeavour, it is impossible to give a concise measurement of a book, and thus you cannot say what criteria makes something a classic. Like all works of art, they only gain status when people are willing to go out and say why they think such a piece is a classic.

But there’s a problem I think we as readers, and certainly as writers, have a duty to address. As far as I’m concerned, ‘literature’ is a stagnant entity. Stuck in a time-warp more likely. Our definition of literature that belongs in the cannon seems to be stuck around the necessity that it must either be old, or deal with deep spiritual and philosophical points. Of course, any selective criteria creates a picture that does not represent the whole. As such, the canon does not represent the entire summary of writing out there. I wouldn’t even say it’s the best. I think we can all list a few literary classics that we’d never want to touch again.

Literature has lost something in becoming so conceited. It has lost its primary function, the thing that made all writers start in the first place. That is telling a good story. Sadly, along the way, storytelling became sidelined, cast into the realm of sensationalist fiction, and therefore not literary. Hence, anything that is popular cannot be literary. Why do we not see science fiction or fantasy included in the canon? We know the answer.

This is what I think must change in order for literature to maintain its credibility. It must not linger in the past alone, but actively engage with present works, rather than exclude them because the author isn’t dead, or because it’s set in a fantasy world.

In light of this, what would you put in your own literary canon? What would you champion, and what would you leave out? Would you put Shakespeare in the bin, or would you keep things as they are?

Flash Fiction: Memory

I’m certain I’ll be dead by the time anyone else reads this. So dear reader, you’re talking to a ghost and I might just be haunting you. What words do the dead have for the living? Ha! What is there to say? I cannot offer you any comfort.

In life I had a name. Many people once had the same name before me. Many since have borne it too. It was just a sign, a way to differentiate one from another, never to describe who I was. I had two lives see. One was before the fall, the other was after. What I would have given to be one of the lucky ones, to have lived on the other side. I played well, but the end is as certain as the beginning.

My bones shine ivory white, picked clean. I am no use; no longer carrion. My memorial is nothing to time immemorial.

I have no tongue with which to speak; the worms took that from me ages ago. Life is not comforting; we learnt that in the fall. In truth, the only thing that changed was a rent in the veil. A rip cut a swathe through it, and the comfortable lie broke.

I remember once that our rational minds were the prize of our evolution; but hollow crowns for a world that never knelt.

I look back on moments of fondness. I feel a mix of laughter and disdain. I only care for a drink.

Might I be stronger, or could hunt better, or survive longer? I ask the birds, but they laugh. They won’t tell where the water is. Why would I need to question the world? My knowledge won’t feed me. I have no clever tools. Mechanics has broken and deserted.

Faced with my death. I write these few lines. Musing about existence. Trying to convince my parched lips that my reason is a gift. In these moments, I lament. For what use is this?

I let life slip between my fingers like grains of sand. My hourglass has run short. I cannot turn it over. What speaks more of my wretched futility, than spending these last moments scrawling in the sand.

Continue reading Flash Fiction: Memory

Writing 101

Approaching Writing – A short guide to constructing ideas and dealing with writer’s block.

A tutorial on how to write – we’ve seen it all before. Why then, should you even bother to read any further into this one? I’m not just going to tell you how to write, but what I’ve learnt through experience. I’m also going to break a few moulds, and show you how some of the well known advice doesn’t exactly work in the simple way others make you believe. As a side note, this is a repost of I guide I previously wrote which got quite a bit of interest from people, and more importantly it seemed to help them. If you read this and find nothing here helps you, that would make me happy actually, as it means you’re beyond whatever help I can offer. Also, if there’s something you’d like to add, please share your tips!

1.The Idea

So, how shall we start? Let’s begin by examining what gets you writing in the first place. That of course is the idea.

It’s obvious, but often neglected when trying to provide advice on how to write better.  Your ideas are the single most important thing that will make your writing great. Being able to write grammatically perfect English doesn’t guarantee a good, thrilling read. Strong, technically flawless writing can’t make that promise either. People read because they love stories, not brilliant writing. I will admit though, the two go hand in hand. A good story is better when written well, and visa versa. However, my personal belief is that ideas have to come first over writing, simply because your writing can be improved by instruction and practice. Ideas however, don’t work in such a logical way. No one can teach you how to come up with a great idea.

Understanding this concept is all well and good, but it doesn’t help you actually come up with that story. Coming up with ideas is an illogical, haphazard process. A story rarely leaps into your head fully formed, and anyone claiming that they have is lying.  Unfortunately, you have to spend time thinking out your story. I’m one of those people who get ideas as they write, but every so often I get stuck too, and I end up needing to plan as well. This means I need to sit and brainstorm ideas down on paper. You can never rely on inspiration striking, because it’s a random and fickle thing. As tempting as it is, waiting until you feel inspired is a sure way to make yourself frustrated about your writing. Why? Because you’ll be staring at a blank document, wanting to write, but unable to because you have no idea where you’re going. It is a horrible cycle that is hard to break out of. The more frustrated you feel, the less you feel like writing. I’ll talk about this later.

Planning will give you the ideas and structure you need to continue writing. To plan out your story, I find it helpful to write down a few short statements that outline what you want to achieve in your book. It is best to have a number of these that differ from each other. Try to write down themes you want to tackle within your book, and any messages you want to convey. To give you some ideas, here are some potential statements.

1. I want to write a fantasy book.
2. I want to create my own fantasy races, not the usual elves, dwarves and orc races.
3. I want to write battle scenes as well as adventure ones.
4. The natural world is important to me, so I will write scenes that deal with nature vs. industry, or machines.

So, those seem to be fairly obvious, formulaic statements. The point of these it to serve as starting points for you to branch out from with increasingly complex ideas and statements. It’s obvious, but you must always deal with what seems glaringly simple, even if it feels stupid. It works as a focal point from which you can better elaborate and expand upon. This means that when it comes to writing you have an idea of what you want to write, and therefore will spend less time agonising over what to write in the first place. Hopefully then, the words will come much easier.

A crucial thing to understand about the planning stage is that it takes a while for ideas to come. Just keep brainstorming, keep writing notes. If you want to be more detailed, write notes for specific chapters, scenes and characters to help you get a better idea of your story. You must be patient and disciplined. Ideas develop over time, and you must be willing to invest time before you get them.

2.When to Write

I briefly touched on this in the previous section, but there is in fact a time to write. For a lot of writers I’ve come across, most say they only write when they feel inspired. This is what I feel distinguishes serious writers from casual ones, but crucially writers who’ll never finish that book and those who will.

I used to subscribe to this style of doing things, but now I don’t. Unfortunately, writing when you feel inspired is a bit of a self-destructive cycle. I’m not being dramatic either. Most of the time, you won’t feel inspired to write. Let’s be honest, we’ve all told ourselves we’ll do it some other time. This means you will struggle to make any meaningful progress on your stories. This in turn, will make you frustrated, which will increasingly leave you feeling even less inspired than before. It’s an unpleasant cycle that doesn’t leave you with good feelings about your writing ability.

In my case, I spent two years writing when I felt like it, and I only came up with 40,000 words on my book. At first, that feels like a sizable amount, but when you break the years down, you realise how little that actually is. With some simple maths, it means that in 730 days, I would have written on average 55 words. Of course, you can’t write every day, but I did waste a lot of time doing nothing simply because I didn’t feel like writing, and then telling myself that any lack of progress was fine because I didn’t feel inspired or even in the mood.

The hard truth is, if I hadn’t gotten my act together, I doubt I would have finished it at all. I certainly didn’t feel good about it either. To me, the amount of time you spend working on a story is only justified when you finish it. If you quit before you do, then you’ve just wasted all the time you spent on it. Besides, if you want to be a published author, you can’t write 55 words a day.

The key to feeling motivated when it comes to writing is all about setting goals for yourself. You’ve got to be disciplined in order for this to work. Motivation is key. I work by writing a thousand words a day, for five days a week. This means I can have the weekend off as a break so I don’t get fed up with writing the same story all the time. It allows me some time where I won’t feel guilty about not writing. Furthermore, it will take on average around forty-five to an hour and fifteen minutes to write a thousand words. What this system means is that in two weeks, I can have ten thousand words written down. What would have taken me two years, takes only two months. So I neither get fed up with writing, nor frustrated with a lack of progress.

However, such a system should be tailored to what works for you. Find a balance between words written and time. For me, I put aside an hour in my day so I can write my thousand words, without having to worry about other obligations. It will probably be a different story for you. Just remember to make a target system that you are happy with, and most importantly, provides progress without making you feel like a slave to your keyboard.

In this part, I’ll also deal with writer’s block. I’m sorry to say, but it’s a case of tough love right now. Firstly, there is no such things as writer’s block. If you are disciplined and prepared, you will have no problems writing. In such, writer’s block really speaks of laziness on the part of the writer, because it is used as a way of justifying a lack of progress to themselves.

Yes, I realise I’m challenging the orthodoxy.

Why do I say this? Because I speak from experience. If I couldn’t be bothered to get writing, I’d just cite writer’s block to myself and hop off to play a computer game. It was an easy excuse, and one that I could use to not make me feel bad about writing. What made it worse was that I felt that I could only write when I felt inspired, because I thought that forcing myself to write would mean I would write badly.

I pretty much impaled myself on a double-edged sword.

Fortunately, I was wrong. As I said, with planning and self-discipline, I could write just as well as when I felt inspired. Sure, there were days when it felt like I was wading through waist high mud, but when I stopped, looked at my notes, I could get going a lot faster. Even if I wasn’t happy with it, I just kept going until the work I had to do was done. When I came back to read it, I realised that it was just me. There was no marked difference between pieces when I felt inspired and when I didn’t. Besides, you’ll always go back and make edits later, so you don’t need to worry about writing brilliantly first time.

That’s the hard truth of it, and it’s something not many people say. I only snapped out of such methods recently. I’d just watched an entire summer holiday slide by with no progress whatsoever. The truth was, I was disgusted with myself. I spent an entire summer doing nothing but lying around, being lazy and playing computer games but I still would call myself a writer. At the end of it, I had nothing to show for it, and that’s what made me feel bad. That in turn, provided me with the kick to actually get something meaningful done. Finding the time to write just becomes harder as you grow up, and life in general will test your commitment to writing. Sometimes, you’ll have to write while half asleep on the train back from work, or just before you go to bed. You might even have to understand that writing will have to fit around other more important duties, and this will test your motivation to do so in the first place.

Poetry & Experimentation

I’ve never really understood the appeal of poetry. Controversial for a writer, but there’s a case in point to be made here. Arguments that have been levied against poetry are the fact that is places emphasis when selecting words on their ability to be sonically pleasing, rather than accurate. A good way to grasp this concept is in lyrics of songs.

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain,” – My Fair Lady – Frederick Loewe & Alan Jay Lerner

You can see how the words for this lyric are chosen for their similar sonic qualities. The repetition of “ain” in the lyric is sonically pleasing, but since the selection of words has been made by this characteristic, and not accuracy, then it can be said that accuracy in language is forsaken for repetition of sounds. Thus, we see the original message that might have sought to have been conveyed lost to prose. Does it the rain really stay mainly in the plain in Spain or have these words been arranged simply because they fit nicely together?

This is the problem with poetry. It inherently distorts truth in favour of couplets that aim to sound beautiful when spoken. As such, poetry is something for it’s own sake, whereas other forms of literature, such as prose are not so.

My idea for writing is to create suspension of disbelief, that is to be able to make a reader feel that what they read is real despite knowing they might be holding a fantasy book. To do this, I must always try to be accurate in my sentence construction rather than be playful with language. As a consequence, I am a not much of a poet, and my attempts at rhyme always fall with mixed result. Instead, I’ve tried to create a form of narrative poetry that mirrors practices of Anglo-Saxon poetry, which counts a number of stresses per line (usually four) rather than syllables.

“Listen!
Howls echo across the face
Of gnarled bark and dark-leaf pines,
Every nook and cranny shakes,
His hearty resonance thus spake;
Oh! The wolf, carnal king
Chief of red-tongue eaters,
Shiver at his tremulous call;
The ravenous appetite for succulent flesh.

I’ve placed the stresses in bold for you to see what I mean. For reference, the “listen” line is paying homage to the Anglo-Saxon word “Hwæt” that opens Beowulf, and has been interpreted as a command to listen, as if the story is being told aloud.

As in some lines, you can see that two words combined by a hyphen count only as one stress. This again draws upon the fact that Anglo-Saxon used many compound words, and Beowulf uses many of these.

The main consideration is that the stresses are the important words, usually nouns and verbs. In this way, the piece hopefully pushes the image behind the words more than trying to introduce a rhyme. The problem with fixed forms of poetry and rhymes in general is that they again demand certain words to fit, so you must either add or remove information when composing a piece that way. While this verse might not sound sonically pleasing, it stresses key information held within the verse rather than playing on words for the sake of it.

Still, all poetry to me remains something tedious. I’m too much of a novelist. Fitting a story to the language feels the wrong, when it should be the other way round. The language must fit the story. I think there is a consideration to be made here, and a reason why poetry isn’t so prominent in the commercial sphere of writing. We just have to look at the best-selling books on the selves to realise that there are no poetry collections there. I don’t think in a fixed format because my aim with language is totally opposite to that of poetry. For me, words must strictly adhere to the plot and should not step above plot or narrative action by being selected for their own qualities as words, rather than their qualities as words that match what I am trying to convey. As such, I find it impossible to try and be a poet, because I naturally lean to being an novelist.