Thursday, 29 January 2015

Notes From An Aspiring Author

Since it's a New Year, I'm going to try something new here: an update on my status as an 'aspiring' author, just to keep you in tandem with my new observations and thoughts on the writing process, the various trials and tribulations and small victories there may be. If you are an aspiring author too - which I know many of you are and more - do feel very welcome to chip in and share your own experiences. It's a lonely profession this writing. 

Besides, I really like that prefix 'aspiring' don't you? It has so much... desire in it. Yes, if desire and ambition were to be coupled and melded into one word it would very much be: aspire.

My definition: To aspire is as necessary as to respire. It denotes living, breathing, doing, seeking, an earnest ever-there trying. It speaks of a life that is lived in the hope of fulfilling, of becoming. To hope and to hold the horizon in your heart with all your breath, with all your power. To be always leaning towards a destination, like a newborn bud to the light of the sun. To grow in the light. To follow the light. To be a bud brimming with a bloom. To direct all your energy towards one bright and shining goal. To nurture it. To push potential to actuality, carefully trilling the tutting, pouting, hesitating, posturing of 'im' out of impossible, to clear the way for the possible. An unconquerable Sisyphus. To say 'I am almost there', 'I want', 'I believe,' 'I know where I am headed', is to aspire to. To gain gargantuan heights. I will be, I will do everything I can to become this which is my fixed ambition. An affixed promise of becoming that which you desire the most, in all the world. In this case, a writer. 

And why is it that every aspiring writer seems an incognito, undercover, hidden one? It seems to be something you keep to yourself, like a secret - a heroic Superman kind of  secret. When it is revealed, it's like the air colours somewhat, a freshness, a revealing like none before.  But do we aspire towards a dream or a set-in-stone career? Because being a writer - ah - I mean an author, is a bit of both isn't it? It's both possible and impossible. Possible if you try outrageously, pour your whole self into it - time, energy, wherewithal; impossible if you don't - if you give in to doubt, to block, to rejections and all those afflicting bad vibes. But what's so exciting and unnerving about being an 'aspiring author' is that we are always hovering between these two polarities, torn between their different energies. We know it could all go one way or the other and so we stand on the cusp of potential poised to dive into a pool of stars or fall face-down on the floor. But, the very word 'aspiring' is a positive one I think. It is laden with intent, a foreseeing, a believing in what will be the next logical outcome: bud to bloom, amateur to master, effort to reward, writer to author. 

~New Writing Paraphernalia ~
I've started the New Year off in positive fashion buying new notebooks in the hopes of  kickstarting a whole new writing schedule (well, schedule is a bit optimistic - let's go with routine instead, ahem.)  My plan was to have one as a general notebook, another as a sort of journal for things like morning pages and observations (see The Artist's Way) and then I was thinking maybe another one for prose while I was at it, an additional one for articles, then one for keeping track of submission dates etc in what would be a super organised extravaganza, a first of its kind on my part. But alas, thrifty sense got the best of me when I thought hold on a sec, I need to stop buying and just start writing! So with their purposes a little eschew, here they are in all their shining finery: 

There's just something about a new notebook that makes you feel all shiny and new. And more motivated you know, to fill them. I think every aspiring author revels in buying them. So working from my first few fledglings of notes, here I am on this new blog endeavor. 

It's worth noting that I also bought a new pack of pencils, the novelty being I NEVER use pencils, even though so many writers swear by them (stodgy traditional stylists hmpf!) My thinking being maybe they'll stick around more than pens as they come in a case which I am determined to keep them in. (I can never keep a pen around me - I seem to repel them. In all my years of writing, I think I've gone through hundreds, maybe thousands of lost and found pens. Remember that film 'State of Play' with Russell Crowe as the hardcore investigative journo and the pen necklace he made for his rookie assistant Rachel McAdams who was always losing pens? Well, I'm thinking that's the lengths I will have to go to if I want to keep a pen on me. A writer with no pen, a builder with no tools - the irony, I assure you, never ceases to jab at my doubtful self's sensitivity to the query of 'am I in the right profession??!'). Anyway, the pencils are spectacular:
In pencil font, words flow across the page like water smoothing benevolent bedrock beneath. Nothing is permanent, so everything is possible, flourishing with a soft assurance. Words are a silk caress, a scarf blowing colours into the breeze. No longer blunt objects, hesitant scrapes and scores, but a confident fanfare of swirls and suave creations, curves of comfort, like ships put out to sea, unfurling their sails finally to the wind, sun shining starboard. 

I've also acquired a desk in the past few months, a real writer's desk. Well, what I like to call a real writer's desk - my desk for writing at least. It's a basic prop, but its symbolism is not to be underestimated. I've never really had a desk before assigned solely to writing, I've written anywhere and everywhere, laptop ad-hoc. Now I take to the testing task of sitting at it a few hours every day, without fail. Discipline. Does every aspiring writer possess this necessary quality (more like a Herculean feat at times) that the pros have I wonder? I forget which writer it is now, but I read that he uses an app that will delete all the words he has written in a day if he doesn't make it to such a number. Now that's scary motivation. Discipline is a stern enforcer which I am trying to cultivate. This desk, I hope, will be my trusted ally in this.

~Honesty and Writing~
I've been reminded lately of how writing has an inherent sort of lie-detector radar. You can speak untruths, but you can't so easily write them. Lots of things brought this to my attention recently, most especially the free speech debate which has erupted since the tragic Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. If we are not allowed to write (and publish) what we think, what we want, no matter how offensive or unappealing it may be, then what? This I say in reference not just to the controversial magazine's content, but to the impassioned language that has sprung up in the debate in its wake. Why should we censor and repress ourselves? Language is a mode of expression - we may or may not use it wisely, but it must be up to each of us how to use it as it is a means of expressing one's self. We must be free to use it whatever way we choose, the only limits being those we impose upon ourselves as personal parameters. 'I shouldn't write this' is a million miles away from 'I am not permitted to write this.' We already impose sanctions on our speech in relation to social settings and sensitivities, but when it comes to print, to the written word, freedom of speech must reign. Provocation has always been a shock tactic, but have we always been so susceptible to shock by it? There have always been insults and out-of-line offensive publications; there has not, however, always been violent retaliation. If nothing else, what the whole Charlie Hebdo tragedy proves is that language, art, is a powerful, powerful medium, capable of eliciting passions and pains. 

See there's something about putting words on paper that filters through the residual sediment of speech to the embedded core of truth. Take diary writing for instance. It's confessional or not at all. Honesty is part and parcel of every writing process. People write letters when they have trouble expressing their true feelings to people. It's a way of tapping into the essential content of ourselves that can often get buried or submerged beneath layers of posturing and pacifying and social-pleasing. You can't write without honesty, and therefore it goes to say, without showing your self, without being your self. I think it was Jeanette Winterson who said: 'language is for revealing, not for hiding'. It's an implement of discourse, not disguise. And for people who use language slyly and strategically to confuse and to camouflage and to disguise their true feelings and intentions, then I say diddly squat! to them. Say what you mean, write it clearly and concisely and truthfully, or don't bother at all. In declarations, not obfuscations. And with no fear. No hesitations.

~Submisson Status~
Ah, time to face the minotaur in the labyrinth, take the podium stand naked, to enter a ticket - more like your ticking tenuous self with a holdall of heart and hope - in the harsh lottery of publishing. Yes, potential submissions are still in my head as we speak. Still mind-calculating what will go where and when the pieces are to be deemed 'ready' and me, their maker, willing. More on that next month! 

More ramblings to come, 

~ Siobhán 

~aka an aspiring author~ 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Making Poetry, A Poem Guide

What better way to talk about poetry than in a poem itself?  I love it when a poem comes along that illuminates the process of writing poetry that little bit more and illustrates just what a fine medium poetry is. 

What this kind of poem also reveals is the inherent mystery and modesty that go with writing poems. It's nice to know that accomplished, assured and skilled poets often have doubts (and therefore humility) when it comes to the poetry making process. Some of these recent discoveries I have to share here with all of you poetry-lovers and poets out there reading. As a poet, you don't get much advice or training in the craft - only from reading poetry - and these poems are both tutor and confidant. 

Billy Collins, one of my favourite poets, writes a lot about the writing process in many wryly entertaining and acutely accurate poems. In 'Poetry', he pays homage to the poet's imagination and purpose in life, which is not really a purpose when compared to those of other writers like novelists or playwrights; no, a poet's job is to just notice things, to let the imagination work, 'to be busy doing nothing'.

Linda Pastan, a poet I've recently discovered, writes plaintively and truthfully about the poetry writing process. I love her poem 'There are Poems' about the poems that never get written, that are lost to the blue sky of the mind. How visually correct! And the trailing-off structure of the poem fits perfectly with what it is saying. Her encouraging words in 'Rereading Frost' are a welcome nourishment to any aspiring poet who thinks what they have to say has already been said and in better ways: 

"At other times though
I remember how one flower
in a meadow already full of flowers
somehow adds to the general fireworks effect..."

Anne Stevenson's 'Making Poetry' is a poem I instantly fell in love with. She manages to put her finger, nimbly and fancifully, on what making poetry means, what it involves and how it is all-involving:

"To be in the habit of, to wear
words, sitting in the plainest light,
in the silk of morning, in the shoe of night;
a feeling bare and frondish is surprising air;

And for anyone in doubt as to the difference between poetry and prose, Howard Nemerov deftly demonstrates it in his short poem of the same name, insinuating that words 'fly' in poetry as opposed to how they 'fall' in prose. Exactly.

All of these poems are below for you to enjoy. Are there any others you can think of? 

Happy poetry musing, 

~ Siobhán  

Poetry - Billy Collins

Call it a field where the animals
who were forgotten by the Ark
come to graze under the evening clouds.

Or a cistern where the rain that fell
before history trickles over a concrete lip.

However you see it,
this is no place to set up
the three-legged easel of realism

or make a reader climb
over the many fences of a plot.

Let the portly novelist
with his noisy typewriter
describe the city where Francine was born,

how Albert read the paper on the train,
how curtains were blowing in the bedroom.

Let the playwright with her torn cardigan
and a dog curled on the rug
move the characters

from the wings to the stage
to face the many-eyed darkness of the house.

Poetry is no place for that.
We have enough to do
complaining about the price of tobacco,

Passing the dripping ladle,
and singing songs to a bird in a cage.

We are busy doing nothing –
and all we need for that is an afternoon,
a rowboat under a blue sky,

and maybe a man fishing from a stone bridge,
or, better still, nobody on that bridge at all.


Making Poetry - Anne Stevenson

‘You have to inhabit poetry
if you want to make it.’
And what’s to ‘inhabit'?
To be in the habit of, to wear
words, sitting in the plainest light,
in the silk of morning, in the shoe of night;
a feeling bare and frondish is surprising air;

And whats ‘to make’ ?
To be and to become words’ passing
weather; to serve a girl on terrible
terms, embark on voyages over voices,
evade the ego-hill, the misery-well,
the siren-hiss of  success, publish,
success, success, success.
And why inhabit, make, inherit poetry ?
Oh , it’s the shared comedy of the worst
blessed; the sound leading the hand;
a worldlife running from mind to mind
through the washed rooms of the simple senses;
one of those haunted, undefendable, unpoetic
crosses we have to find. 


There are Poems - Linda Pastan

There are poems
that are never written,
that simply move across
the mind
like skywriting
on a still day:
slowly the first word
drifts west,
the last letters dissolve
on the tongue,
and what is left
is the pure blue
of insight, without cloud
or comfort.


Rereading Frost - Linda Pastan

Sometimes I think all the best poems
have been written already,
and no one has time to read them,
so why try to write more?

At other times though,
I remember how one flower
in a meadow already full of flowers
somehow adds to the general fireworks effect

as you get to the top of a hill
in Colorado, say, in high summer
and just look down at all that brimming color.
I also try to convince myself

that the smallest note of the smallest
instrument in the band,
the triangle for instance,
is important to the conductor

who stands there, pointing his finger
in the direction of the percussions,
demanding that one silvery ping.
And I decide not to stop trying,

at least not for a while, though in truth
I’d rather just sit here reading
how someone else has been acquainted
with the night already, and perfectly.


Because You Asked About The Line Between Poetry and Prose - 
Howard Nemerov

Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned into pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow. 

There came a moment that you couldn't tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.


Sunday, 4 January 2015

Sunday Morning Musing: A Writer Is A World

Well that's it isn't it?! I love this quote. I marvel at this quote. I marvel at this world. I marvel at the worlds in us, the worlds in words. But I don't know about the word 'trapped'. I'd like to think of it more as: 'a writer is a world contained in a person'. Yes, contained. Or maybe 'brimming' or 'bubbling.' How about you? 

Join me over on Pinterest - - for more writerly gems. 


Thursday, 1 January 2015

New Year Tidings


Happy New Year! I love New Year's Day, the feeling of newness in it, the promise, the luminous blank slated possibility ahead shining.

There are some lovely quotes that capture these feelings exactly that I love to peruse on New Year's Day. And poems too. Here are some of them:

Here's to a great 2015! 

~ Siobhán 



 ~ George William Curtis