Friday, August 26, 2005

Write then you lot!

I'll cut through a couple of myths for you if you're having trouble with writer's block, or you just want to know where to get started:

1. Not all the great songs have been written. There's so much in songwriting that is standard, if not substandard, leaving opportunity to pen something with more lasting resonance or at least a cleverer line in repartee.

2. It is easy enough, at a certain level, to write something worthwhile using the most everyday material or stock images but for an easy way to get started and feel like you are producing something original while you're still learning, try combining two words or images and writing about the contrived concatenation thus;
'neck' and 'middle' Not too promising? Then think of your own clash of imagery, as I did in 'A Table For Two in the Fallout Shelter'. The fact that I did write it in the eighties is symptomatic of the kind of general dread that precided at the last gasp of the Cold War era but the 'table for two' forces the piece to be less didactic (though only by a sliver), whatever the narrator's fears.

3. Every new title produces a wealth of possibilities for bouncing ideas and concepts off and, from there, piecing together the poem or song. Again, there is probably not much use in going too far out; if your title is 'Example: Derbyshire' then you're hamstrung before you begin but pick idioms such as 'Enough To Last a Lifetime' [yes I have already used it] or common clauses like 'However Long It Takes' and you've got a lot of room to play and eventually get something into shape.
This comes naturally after you've been doing it for a while and you start to notice intriguing themes even when you're not writing verse. (By then it is far too late :-).)

4. Resolve to use the devices at intervals. The extra effort to achieve alliteration or assonance is rewarded by a combination that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. If you do practice then it stands to reason that, as a mature poet, you will be able to use or not use the tools in your armoury as it suits you. And the work will be the better for it.

5. Trust in the Muse. Some of my best work I haven't understood at once. I've either had to check my facts to see that I'm not spouting gibberish or I get the meaning at some different stage in my life; there really is something magic in creation if you can just get the right mixture of inspiration and interpretation. That's easier said than done but existing artists will know what I mean. There's an element of discovery in the art of creation and that may even be the most satisfying element when all is said and done.

6. Don't be afraid to re-write. It took me many years to realise this simple truth for myself. I thought a poem had to either be good or not-too-good. I was reverencing the Muse while being irreverant to just about everything else. There's further fun to be had teasing out a more apt metaphor; a simile with greater similitude.

7. Intersperse your writing with snippets woven round a certain theme. That way you have the raw material for an anthology, a musical, a concept album; the possibilities are many. As Philip Salom pointed out to me, collections of verse by one poet are often built around a theme for the book in much the same way as other kinds of books are produced and marketed. The Guinness Book of Odd Assortments That May Not Have Much Bearing On Our Lives is beyond the pale; the Encyclopedia of Wart Remedies Since Debunked is not worth the bother; a 'novel' that meanders, leaving you with the impression that the writer just put down the first thing that came into her or his head does no one any favours. And so it is with smaller pieces: articles are artfully assembled, blank verse is corralled. No preponderance of pomo intellectualising will replace the desire for words that resonate and resolve.

8. Keep a notebook or journal. You need a place to write where you won't hesitate to jot down a scrap of information or an idea in the midst of other workings. It's not practical to carry an exercise book for songs and poems, a jotter for dialogue, a scrapbook for facts to use in writing essays.
I ignore my own advice but that's because, this far along, I'm writing songs and poems. That's what I'm best at and I no longer see a need to write inferior work just because that shows I'm willing to experiment. I'm happy to experiment but I'll do it at my leisure, not in a vain desire to achieve cred. I do have books covering all sorts of other things (even bites of wisdom I have on hand whether I end up using it or not)

9. Join a community. You'll be disabused of puny delimiting notions while engaging in that first give and take before you put your work out to the paying public.

10. Don't limit yourself. If you find yourself fascinated by minutae that escapes other writers' notice then at least you have the material for a book that you're not competing with a crowd to get published. Sure, there's an interest in hostage-taking but the journalists have that patch covered. Romances are many a writer's bread and butter but are you skilled enough to jump into such familiar waters? There are artists aplenty who received early notice through being bizarre or by ferreting out some undercovered niche.


At 5:30 am , Blogger Sherry P said...

good advice, especially the bit about rewrites. i do that often, put things away for awhile, sometimes a year or more then go back. good site , i like this. sherry

At 1:49 pm , Blogger Berko Wills said...

Thanks Sherry, good to hear from you and to get your comments.


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