Saturday, 27 February 2010

Creative Writing Course: Lesson Two

Despair and Feelings of Total Uselessness

There is nothing more terrifying for a writer than to face the white expanse of a virgin page.

It brings home how alone you are. How terribly, terribly alone.

Which way to turn?  Whatever direction you choose is a desecration. Does it not feel a sin to mark the terrain with your pointless remarks? Who are you to record such stuff? Who will be interested in reading your trite observations?

In this bleak landscape, it is easy to mistake the whistle of the wind under the door for the sound distant laughter. (Ignore the fact that, frequently, it is the sound of distant laughter and not the wind under the door.)

The point is to be positive. You may feel completely useless; in truth, you may be completely useless, and, let's face it, most wannabe writers are completely useless. But don't let that get you down. Remember the top half of the best seller list is filled by celebs who find it difficult to articulate their glottal stops, let alone spell them.

A trick I find very useful in dealing with the mocking behaviour of a blank piece of paper is to put it firmly in its place by scribbling my acceptance speech for the Man Booker Prize all over it.

It is never too early to write your acceptance speech. Indeed, I believe it portrays a healthy attitude to write it well before you have written the book.  Nothing is more embarrassing than arriving at the plinth ill-prepared – ask Gwyneth Paltrow.

Having written several acceptance speeches in my time - in truth, it is all I have ever written - allow me to pass on the lessons learnt.

Humour: do not confuse accepting an award with being a stand-up comic. It is best to confine your wit to a few self-deprecatory remarks. (Do avoid making any such comments about your ability to write in case the audience agrees with you.)

Erudition: it helps; however, it would be a brave individual to follow in the footsteps of John Berger who, on winning in 1972, questioned the whole notion of the Booker Prize. To quote: “Since you have awarded me this prize, you may like to know, briefly, what it means to me. The competitiveness of prizes I find distasteful.” Disingenuous of him, I say.

Modesty: don't overdo it. Only politicians sincerely believe in modesty in much the same way they most sincerely believe they are mere representatives of their constituents, and genuinely sincerely believe they have been appointed by Divine Right.

On the other hand, it is unseemly to blow raspberries at your competitors as you weave your way through to the podium.

Finally we come to the issue of thanks. Who to thank? There are the obvious candidates – your agent, your publisher, your partner, your children (if applicable), your parents, your grandparents, your grandchildren (if applicable), your pets, your best friend, the partner of your best friend, Microsoft, Apple (choose manufacturer of your computer), all your friends on FaceBook, everyone who follows you on Twitter – you can see how rapidly the list grows out of control.

The solution is surprisingly simple. Just prepare a group message of thanks to everyone relevant and text them once you arrive at that point in your speech. If nothing else, it will prove entertaining as twenty mobile phones go off simultaneously in the room.

Lesson Three is entitled Routine, Routine, Routine. It will demonstrate how easy it is to get to handle the boring bits involved in writing a bestseller, namely the writing bit.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Creative Writing Course: Lesson One

Right, pay attention in the back. Now, as my dedicated readers will know, I have mooted I would be running a creative writing course. And, despite the confusion posed by the absence of tobacco and alcohol, I have managed to put together my first lesson plan.

Lesson One: Getting Started

It is most important for the wannabe writer to settle somewhere quiet, free from all distractions.

If, as you settle yourself, you have a nagging feeling there is something you have forgotten to do, start by making a list of all the chores you have avoided over the last six months.

Now is as good a time as any to get them done.

I find polishing silver very conducive to the creative process. You may find black-leading the fireplace, polishing the doorstep, or washing the skylight equally as stimulating.

After such strenuous efforts a light meal is necessary. After the light meal, forty winks.

This process may take time. Two to three weeks is not unusual. The trick is to try and complete your tasks within the month or you will find the silver needs polishing again, the fireplace re-leading, the doorstep polishing, et cetera.

So finally, you are at your desk without a care in the world. Turn on your computer and spend a few minutes getting yourself in the mood by checking the blogs of all those fellow writers you follow.

The Readers Digest is so right; it does pay to increase your word power. Today, for instance, I discovered the word 'conniption' thanks to this post from Scott. According to Chambers, it is 'a fit of hysterical excitement or rage. [Origin unknown]'.

Don't you love 'origin unknown' in definitions. It's a challenge. The Online Etymology Dictionary posits a couple of thoughts for conniption's ancestry: '1833, Amer.Eng., origin uncertain; perhaps related to corruption, which was used in a sense of "anger" from 1799, or from Eng. dialectal canapshus "ill-tempered, captious," probably a corruption of captious'.

The Podictionary points to the first person on record to having a conniption fit as being one Aunt Keziah:

'The reason Aunt Keziah had a conniption fit was that back in the early 1800s the entire population of the town of Downingville in New England had prepared for a visit by President Andrew Jackson.'

[If President George W. Bush had claimed to be suffering from conniption, meaning he was constipated, would we have been surprised? Doubtlessly, we would all have been hysterical, but he had that effect on most of us, most of the time.]

It is now probably too late to think of writing, so make yourself a warm, milky drink, turn down the bedspread, place a notepad and pencil by the alarm and go to sleep.

Lesson Two will concentrate on the next stage of the creative process: Despair and Feelings of Total Uselessness.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

That Was January That Was

January has been a strange month. It appears my ability to concentrate has taken a holiday. Focus is a better word. My ability to concentrate is dissipated across a spectrum of associated subjects every time I attempt to focus on the one. Even writing this, I am thinking whether anyone is really interested in a diary entry; if so how to deliver it; to what extent that consideration, the awareness that what I write here will be read by others qualifies the text as a diary entry; whether life is 'the luminous envelope' as described by Virginia Woolf, 'surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end' and how I could translate that idea here in a style both contemporary and relevant.
(If you wonder why such thoughts should trespass, there are reasons. Indeed, my head is full of philosophy at the moment.)
January has been an empty month filled with intent drained off action. I overflow with promise. My conversations are filled with plans and all have received cross-party support.  Despite that, I have failed to submit even an outline proposal to the planning sub-committee. And time is limited. Deadlines draw close. Elections loom.
I know I am being cryptic but superstition catches my tongue – I do not want to talk of my ambitions for fear they will be extinguished faster than a fireman's illicit fag.
For all its snow, January was not the cruellest of months. I was prepared for the blizzards. As I last posted. I knew I would be negotiating foreign terrain and with each day it becomes more familiar. Moreover, I have not stumbled. The absence of tobacco has not been missed. (A tremulous boast whispered through crossed fingers.) My strategies seem to be working.
The absence of alcohol has displayed different characteristics.
There is so much theatre, such ceremony, so many words involved in the pouring and downing of a glass of wine or pint of beer, its absence leaves a real gap. Not only are you, the novice teetotaller, unsure how to behave at the moment the sun crosses the yardarm, neither are your friends. It is like attending a mass where the celebrant has forgotten the order of service.
This is the social issue for which I have yet to devise the means to make all comfortable.


Lane has just written of the difficulties of concentration for the new non-smoker here, so I am not the only… what was I talking about?