Writing: It All Begins with a Slab of Marble

I absolutely love hopping on a Twitter two or three times a day to check in with all my #amwriting colleagues from across the globe.  They really motivate me with their anecdotes, quotes and out and out enthusiasm. Occasionally I even get to help someone in return.

This has happened a few times over the last week, and a similar theme seems to be emerging that others have found useful. I thought I’d blog about it and share it with you good people in the hopes it will help you too.

The message is simple. The Venus de Milo didn’t start out looking like this:

Michaelangelos Angel

In actual fact it started out looking something like this:

Marble slab

As Michelangelo is quoted as saying, “I saw the angel in the marble, and carved him until I set him free.”  I believe that some of the best literature has been carved out a whole pile of words that have been chipped away at in order to reveal the masterpiece underneath.

Keeping this in mind, there are some important lessons to be learned from this:

  • Writer’s Block – can be a thing of the past. It’s not that you can’t find words, any more than Michelangelo was unable to source marble, it’s that you are looking too hard for the right ones.  Just verbally throw up all over the page, even if you swear at it, and I promise you, eventually the ideas and the right words will come.
  • Editing – The single most important thing about being an author isn’t even the writing itself; it’s the editing.  It may sound tedious, but it really needn’t be.  It’s running your expert fingers along the curves and crevasses of your work, chipping off the unnecessary and polishing the dull until it shines. Good editing can be the difference between the Venus de Milo and something you bought at your local garden centre.

I have found that I cannot edit directly on the screen.  I print it out each time and comb through it with a red pen (I have quite a collection). I correct typos, cut the unnecessary, re-phrase the awkward, and juggle the order so it scans. Sometimes it can take as many as five drafts for me to be happy enough with it to move on, but it really is worth it. I get an enormous sense of satisfaction when it’s done.

So, let’s all start throwing down some marble slabs, and set free a whole host of angels from within!

 

Some advice from Mrs Ridgeley

In my last two years in junior school I was fortunate enough to have an amazing teacher.  Her name was Mrs Ridgeley, and if that sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because her son, Andrew, was in the 80’s pop group Wham! with George Michael.

As exciting as it was to listen to their records in the classroom, and to see the joy and pride on Mrs Ridgeley’s face, the lasting impression this wonderful lady had on me was one of creativity and hard work.

There was never a dull moment in her lessons.  She brought imagination and enthusiasm to each task.  I learned about the political bias between different newspapers, how to draw a daffodil, who the Normans were, and some basic words of French.  But I also learned about life.

One subject I particularly treasured was “Creative Writing”. As I was going through an old chest recently I came upon my creative writing books and Mrs Ridgeley’s words leapt out of the page at me.

 

“Some very good ideas here, Susanna, but you could have made it a “top-class” story by using a little more thought, imagination, and effort.  Read my notes – it will help you improve to become a really good writer – you could be, but you’ve got to work harder at it.!”

Sadly, Mrs Ridgeley is no longer with us, but these words from beyond the grave are teaching me even to this day.  I am a natural thinker, just like the Rodin statue, and yet I hardly ever give myself enough time to just think. When I do, good things happen.  It is good to be reminded of this.

Until recently I was afraid of where my imagination would take me.  I suffered from a lot of nightmares as a child, and still have them today.  If I give my mind free reign I am scared that I will end up in a very dark place.  Yet when I do play inside my head I find beautiful things, like the map of Freodholm I have shown to you before.  Mrs Ridgeley reminds me that my imagination is my trusted friend, who will take me to amazing places I’ve never been before.

Finally there’s the issue of effort.  Part of my problem is that I am a perfectionist, and want to be brilliant at something first time round.  One thing I have learned from my knitting group is that honing a craft can take years.  It’s only when I look back at the mistakes I have made that I realise how far I have come.  Writing is a journey, not a destination, and I just need to keep plodding along.

So thank you Mrs Ridgeley, for your creative thought, imagination, and hard work. Above all else, thank you for your unending patience. I write today because of you.

Writing Projects

IMG_4200

As part of the writing group I belong to, we take it in turns to set ourselves a project once a month. I must confess that I have found this a challenge. For starters we were simply given the words “In the name…” with which we had to begin our work. It could be an article, short story, poem, or even chapter in a novel, but it had to follow this opening.

I wasted valuable time trying to be too original. I was determined not to follow “In the name…” with “of the” which contours up religious or royal images for me and seemed too predictable. Eventually I stopped worrying about how original I was and just started writing. What resulted was the following poem entitled “Watling Chase”. I hope you enjoy it.

In the name of all that is good and true
I’m writing this letter to implore you
Please stop with your building, your filling of space.
Instead let us celebrate Watling Chase.

The orchard, the paths, the fields and the trees,
The rabbits, the horses, the lambs, all of these
Are precious and fragile and can’t be replaced
Let’s arrest brick and mortar with all due haste.

Come sit on my bench and admire the view
Tune in to the birdsong, tune in to you!
Each one of us is a part of the whole
Freedom to breathe should be our goal

Breathe in the fresh air, be still and stand
For all that brings life across our land.

Of course it’s hardly likely to make me a candidate for the next Poet Laureate, but it was, in the end, a really enjoyable exercise. It got me writing in a genre I haven’t attempted since I was a teenager, about a subject I am passionate about but would have overlooked in my business. It also means that I am going back to my novel with a fresh pair of eyes. I suppose it’s a bit like the mint ice cream between sumptuous courses in an extravagant dinner. It clears the palette and helps me enjoy what comes next. Ever thought of doing the same? If you have, what was it like for you?

IMG_4204