10 November 2008

Writing Journal, Day seven

Final entry then, and I've just made the late deadline. This time it actually involves some creative writing! Apologies to Beverley, I know my blog's been quite patchy...

I wrote some haikus on the bus, and while I like the idea of minimalism, it felt too claustrophobic. I can't flow with my writing like the way it used to happen. While one of my favourite poems is Ezra Pound's ultra-short "In a Station of the Metro", I think it requires a hell of a lot of skill to actually pull this kind of thing off. So 17 awkward syllables, with phrases crowbarred into tight spots, provides the basis of my Haikus. Having said that, I liked the fact that it's impossible to ramble, and I could just sum up one thought. So I came up with three that I liked; here's my favourite:

Haiku for a Bus Driver
Pavements scroll. I pose,
Aloft. Each streetlight is fixed.
Brakes bring new faces.

I'm trying to figure out how to go about editing this. It's far too short to start finding synonyms or to try and flip the syntax around. In fact, I'd quite like people to be more harsh when criticising me, telling me which bits need editing, and how they'd edit it. Which I absolutely hate doing myself, but still, it's important to have honest feedback. I handed in my Personal Statement for UCAS to some teachers today, and painfully realised how horrible some of the bits sounded. The Personal Statement is a new form of self-portrait, written exclusively by 17-year olds, in under 4000 characters. Every Personal Statement is an absolute work of art, but at times it sounds like I've not taken it at all seriously, and at times it sounds so overwrought. Maybe I can channel that kind of feedback into editing my poetry.

With longer poems, sometimes I just write a page full of nonsense, then attack it with crossings-out, then completely rewrite it, and this is the editing process. It made me wonder what would happen if I tried to write the same poem on three different days, forgetting the results each time. I've tried that before, but never really had my heart in writing what is ostensibly the same thing over again. Especially what with my current block of flow.

Also, I was supposed to be having a poem published in my school 'zine today, but due to lack of material, publication seems to be being postponed indefinitely. So I'm going to dump it here!

I wrote it about my Duke of Edinburgh gold expedition, which was basically four days of hiking and wild-camping in the highlands of Scotland. It grossly over-exaggerates the relatively bearable weather conditions, and you should bear in mind that I had a heck of a lot of fun on this expedition! I wanted to write something really grandiose, as we've been studying Paradise Lost in English. I've also been messing round with rhyme and sonnet structure, which is fun. But Katie seemed a bit scared by it. I think it's pretty epic!


Aloft atop titanic Scottish peaks
that plunged us into unforgiving mist,
Dwarfing our humble, heaving bodies blist-
ering with throbbing footsteps sunken deep
between the mossy giant's shoulder blades,
his stagnant marsh ubiquitous. He sweeps
his snow-capped clansmen 'cross the weathered trails,
Beside the tranquil streams and hazy glades.
Even nature's formidable displays
of ceaseless rainstorms, cliffs, and stony gales
deterred us not from this ambitious feat,
For through such gripping cold and smothering heat
we fought, with proud and aching footsteps strugg-
ling onwards till our journey was complete.


I just realised that I accidentally wrote a haiku without realising it. I didn't even edit this.

Haiku for Haikus
Seventeen awkward
syllables, with phrases crow-
barred into tight spots.

Maybe my flow is coming back! Or maybe I just pushed the limits of meta-humour. I wouldn't blame you if you groaned at that effort.

How do you make a living from writing?

I'm still quite naive when it comes to money. I have a lot to learn, as I have no idea what kind of money is involved in writing, and I scarcely have a concept of the costs of living... I'd love to have writing on the side, alongside a more feasible job. Like a column. How cool would that be? It would be like this blog, except I'd get paid, and I'd have to be coherent and concise. This is where problems arise. I really have no idea how people get involved in writing.

I think my dream writing position would be a Pitchfork Media reviewer. Unfortunately, many people agree with me, and so their reviewers don't actually get paid. It's enough of a reward to get the free music, I suppose. By this rationale, it seems far easier to get a writing career with something that does feel like work. Unless you're very lucky. But as I've said before, I'm more than happy to shelve my writings, and share things with friends.

Thanks for reading my journal! Perhaps this will lead to a new dawn of Message Sent activity...

09 November 2008

Writing Journal, Day six

I finally have time to write some stuff! It's been a bit hectic.

How do you find out about what's happening in the writing world and what do you think we can do to improve information for young people?

SYW is quite informative of spoken word stuff in Sheffield, and we have Off The Shelf too which is a great thing for writers to have. Other than that kind of thing, I'm not entirely sure what "the writing world" constitutes. I heard about SYW from Olivia and Priscilla, at the beginning of my time at King Ted's, and I thought Off The Shelf was pretty well-publicised around Sheffield. Everything else came through SYW.

Words Aloud has been fantastic, although it's the last one on November 25th! I've got to find something memorable to read out to mark the last evening. It will be quite sentimental actually.

I really hope I can find similar stuff when I head off to uni soon... It hangs on what kind of circle of friends I fall into... It's probably going to be fine, but it's still a bit scary. It is really hard to find out about new stuff like this, so I need other people with the same interests. But we're living in the information age... Facebook is the really the only real-life networking I need; I get invited to gigs, parties and performances through my friends and groups quite frequently, which is brilliant. I'd say it's the best way to involve young writers, as the internet is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, and things will still be spread by word of mouth.

07 November 2008

Writing Journal, Day five

So I'm a bit behind, inevitably, since I have had practically no time to write anything today (and probably won't tomorrow either), so I'm now hurriedly finishing off yesterday's (now the day after yesterday's) journal. I knew this would happen. It's annoying now though, because I already know what my follow-up is going to involve... sigh.

So today, Wednesday November 5 (shush), I did something I've not done in a long time. It sounds immature for me to talk about this, but hopefully you'll see where I'm going at the end. I thought I'd got over episodes off sudden insecurity, but today I reminded myself of what I used to be like by making a completely incomprehensible noise at a girl in the queue for the bus. Well, not just out of nowhere. Literally nonsense, though. She'd asked me something I didn't hear because I had the Mars Volta blasting in one ear, but it was obvious she was asking me if I wanted to go before her. So my reply should not, of all things, have been "Shurenumbfm". And yes, I remember the sound. Ugh.

I like the fact that I can be more expressive through text. I once went to the Botanical Gardens with Olivia to be interviewed about poetry in Sheffield, with Seb, who's a really nice guy, who's now in a relationship with Olivia. So I was obviously a real third wheel back then, and I got in front of the camera and completely lost it. I could barely string a sentence together, for some reason. We found it funny afterwards, but it just shows how bad I am at spontaneity, and I just don't understand people who can just talk for hours! I like being able to go back and cross things out and delete them all the time. Self-correction is quite satisfying, but you can't really do it in real life.

And I like that while you only really have one way of talking conversationally, writing can be prose, poetry, journalism, etc. At SYW we've done postcards, scenes from plays, and I still have a page full of an onomatopoeic transcription of the noise of a time machine. Today, we began a project on just expanding a character, and having a realistic, complex character who you know inside-out. Allan is based on myself, or kind of a midway between myself and a close friend. As well as a character I dreamt up for what may have turned into a novel at one point, but who was a lot different because he was going to have lived in a world like a constant lucid dream. I love having new ways of thinking about the world, and through a new character, one who I would hold a lot of respect for, I think I'm going to have fun developing Allan. =)

The novel idea never really got off the ground, though. I'm rooted in poetry; I just enjoy it more, and feel satisfied when I stop myself from rambling. It can be somewhat daring, presenting imagery that may be misleading or suggestive, and hoping the reader doesn't just hear all the negative parts of the poem. Obviously I'm the person who has most insight into the poem, and sometimes I feel like my stuff doesn't have the right impact, but I also like the idea of constructing poetry to result in multiple interpretations.

The creation of beauty is less exact in prose, but sometimes I favour it, for instance, recently I've just been jotting down stuff that's happened to me, that felt like it was laden with imagery. I feel like Erasherhead sometimes, walking round town with weird stuff going on in the background which sometimes doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, but at the same time must be symbolic... So I've tried to write down these symbols and derive some sort of meaning out of them by the time I've finished writing. I probably won't show these to anyone because a lot of them bring out a side of me I'm reluctant to display. I do the same in poetry, but I don't know if people pick up on it, and if they do, they're not as inclined to accept that it's true. I shroud my poetry in ambiguity, and I hope that different people see the sides of my writing that are relevant to them. It's harder to be ambiguous with prose, which I suppose is why novels are more popular than poems.

I'm getting quite annoyed at myself over being conversationally ineloquent, though. I think partly because Bethan's voice is so beautiful. I stumble over words so much, and slur my speech like I'm drunk. (Apparently it's terrible when I actually am drunk.) I think it's because I prefer writing, so I always want to go back and rephrase things, and start over, while I'm supposed to be having a conversation with someone. Okay, I'm barely a stuttering wreck, but I feel that it's something which has impeded me socially. Sometimes my friends phone for advice, and I find myself apologising for my lack of support. Yesterday, Michael was giving me meta-commentary about the way I was comforting him, which was actually quite funny.

And quite often conversation is quite banal... I love the stuff I talk about with my friends, though. Quite often, the most uninteresting conversation turns into a semi-philosophical discussion, which is really rad. It sounds quite pretentious of me, really. But I think that that's something I have to forget about when writing about this stuff in poetry.

And yet, when I'm trying to sum up thoughts as big as skies, I'm always going back to something I wouldn't admit to thinking twice about... Like earlier... I mean, it would have to be a girl, wouldn't it? This was actually exactly what I picked out about Allan, when I named one of his most confusing contradictions, in his continuous obsession over other human beings, and things that he would say hardly matter. I described it as an artistic pretense. I think both me and Allan would admit to overthinking trivialities. Allan's obsession over another human is not an emotion he would say made sense. And today's incident was something I should have forgotten about by now. I know you've guessed that I thought she was incredibly pretty. On the bus, she was reading a book for a social psychology course, and I realised that I must have freaked her out a bit, and wondered if she was analysing it and working out what was up with me. Not that it would have been wise to apologise for my incoherence. And of course it doesn't matter, because I'm never going to see her again.

05 November 2008

Writing Journal, Day four

I'm a bit caught up in the US election tonight... Radio 4 is on, and I'm clicking obsessively around the Guardian website, and yelling about every flicker of activity amongst a load of Americans over IRC. Not exactly something I'd ever feel poetic about, but I like the way everything's kind of fallen around it. School is cancelled tomorrow, as the heating has broken, and I'm seriously considering pulling an all-nighter for this - I know it's a cliché, but it's history...

Anyway, I'm really enjoying blogging this journal. I used to hate the idea of getting into a rhythm of things, and I don't think I've ever managed to compel myself to writing in a diary past February, but I've actually written four sizeable days' worth of writing.

Still, I don't think I'd ever be able to seriously do writing professionally. I'm terrible with deadlines, absolutely dreadful. My writers' block would make me an impoverished wreck. It would be fun, I suppose, but I'd definitely never go in for creative writing, and probably not journalism. Although I was seriously considering a degree in it at one point. With 3 years of English on the cards, I'm not exactly set on any career paths.

I probably shouldn't feel so weird about the idea of doing work that I would actually enjoy, but there is something inherently unnatural about that. I guess I decided to work on something more realistic, and thereby postponed all ideas for job opportunities. Which is what most people do! I'm really looking forward to doing English, though. I want university to be the best 3 years of my life, and I'm sure it will be. I think writing will definitely be part of that, and yes, I can enjoy it. I'm sure work just detracts from anything you enjoy, so I can only come to the conclusion that it's all good. :)

04 November 2008

Writing Journal, Day three

(Late again...)

Have teachers helped or hindered you as a writer?

I always enjoyed doing those creative writing bits in the SATs. Before school got all serious. I think that was an excuse to just get creative for once without getting derided. I once was asked to write about the view from my window, but decided that that was boring, and instead wrote about the view from some crazy alien's spaceship at the edge of the universe. I must have just read the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy series, and I loved that kind of hyperimaginative writing. Adams' ability to just think up crazy alien cultures and inventions is the kind of thing I think the SATs were all about. He clearly loved his writing to bits, had a lot of fun with it, and I think for a while I wanted to be a writer - without actually writing very much. I was about 12 at the time, I suppose. I still have a ~30 page word document entitled "WAR OF THE PI", which was about an incredible fat alien (called P%rk) eating a pie that perpetuates youth, and the adventures of the bizarre aliens trying to rescue the magical custard from P%rk's stomach before it was digested.

I've only shown WAR OF THE PI to one other person, and while he seemed quite enthusiastic, I don't think he actually got past the first page. My hyperactive ramblings which I handed in for the creative description tasks were never particularly well-received, as I always tended to break the boundaries I'd been set, and add some sort of action to the scene. This was my way of telling everyone that there is nothing more boring in literature than a description of something stationary. Yet that seems to have been the only creative writing we were asked to do at school...

I can't remember if I was any good with imagery back then. It's become the focus of my writing these days. Beverly's post today mentioned Sylvia Plath, who is probably my favourite writer ever, just because she uses imagery in a way that could kind of be described as hyperimaginative. Plath's poetry is never straightforward. It requires a lot of imagination to get to grips with: every similie is a long shot, and there's so many connotations carried by every word. Her writing is so dense, and very rewarding. I'm flipping through Ariel right now, and just flicking straight through poems like Lesbos, you can just tell that it somehow sounds so depraved, without necessarily taking everything in. I prefer her earlier poems in terms of meaning, simply because I understand them (mostly), and the Bell Jar is terribly beautiful; but in terms of language, Ariel is her masterpiece.

I guess some of my poems (Major, for instance, which I posted to Message Sent a month or two ago), are directly influenced by Plath. In retrospect I think the poem I did for Olivia (which I finished today) sort of uses that style, too. Free verse, at least. Thanks to my teachers, I never thought poems had to rhyme. I found out enough about literature I guess, but I still felt more inclined towards journalism rather than poetry or prose. I never actually felt compelled to read poetry until I was 16, which isn't that long ago!

You can blame my friends for this exposure to art. At my old school, nobody would have dared to express themselves artfully, (apart from the odd rock band, I suppose). When I moved to my 6th form, I met my friends, and I now feel like I'm part of some bohemian subculture of Sheffield, which is pretty rad! And I love literature so much now that I'm dead set on studying it at university.

Friends are always going to have far much more influence on people than teachers, of course. I think my current teachers are pretty awesome, actually, but of course it's my friends who join in and support my writing. And I have far more freedom than ever before, because I'm friends with the most open-minded people I've ever met. Open-mindedness is, in my opinion, the strongest virtue, and while I previously wanted to be a journalist, people assumed I'd be telling lies about celebrities in the Daily Mail, now I'm a writer, and that can mean whatever the hell I want it to mean.

03 November 2008

Writing Journal, Day two

Today's (well, yesterday's) journal is late because my internet died.

I managed to write the poem for Olivia today, I can never decide if my poems are any good till a couple of days after I've written them, but hopefully she will appreciate the gesture. :)

My creativity was somewhat hampered by the culmination of a half-term full of procrastination, so I spent a long time doing, (or trying to do), english and maths homework, and I even shunned that in favour of violin for most of the day. It's been one of those days where I can barely tell where all my time went. All I know is I feel tired now, and it's become dark outside. Not exactly a creative environment.

I wish I lived closer to town, or just next to Broomhill like most of my friends do, so I could just wander off into town for a few hours and sit in Remo's with a notepad and a fountain pen. Possibly a beret, Lennon-esque shades, and a stripy jumper. And I could grow a Dali moustache.....

What time do you like to write at? Do you write every day or once in a blue moon?

I usually write on the bus, at the end of my day, but rarely in the evening. Or wandering round the Winter Gardens, or a park, waiting in between school and orchestra, or something. I can hardly ever write about something that isn't connected to my day. It's not something I force myself to do... I easily wrote every day at one point, but somehow I don't think simply sitting and looking poetic actually generates creativity. I still try to make myself write, and I guess it gives me a good sense of well-being if I do write anything I like, but to stare at a blank page is one of the most frustrating activities in the world. It's happened a lot recently.

I just need new types of inspiration. I want to start writing one day, and wonder how my style has so suddenly changed. I've been listening to the new Los Campesinos! album a lot today, (it's amazing by the way), and the songwriting on it is just crazy. Written down in the lyrics zine, it's the kind of thing you could never imagine being set to music, because it's so dense, it's practically prose. I wish I could write poetry in this kind of conversational tone. It's that style of writing that doesn't seem hyperemotional, but it's so emotionally charged. In "It's Never That Easy Though, Is It?", they basically describe the most horrible thing that could happen to anyone ever:

"As if I walked into the room to see my ex-girlfriend
(who by the way I'm still in love with)
sucking the face of some pretty boy, with my favourite band's
most popular song
in the background."

But nothing I write ever goes anything like this. Nothing creative, at any rate, because I don't really see blogs as creative writing. Not that I don't make an effort, I do, but this actually is a conversational tone: when I've tried to blog about my insecurities or whatever, it's just been the sort of thing I'd say to someone over the phone if I had half an hour to plan everything I wanted to say. In poetry, though, I'm way too obsessed with finding imagery for things, so it barely even sounds real any more. I think one of the things I said that I wanted to get out of SYW was to just nail a writing style, and know what the hell I sound like when I write. I'd love it if someone read something of mine, anonymously, and think "Oh yeah, that's Stephen." But I also want to break out of whatever it is that is my writing style. Just making the same thing over and over again is boring.

Hmm... I contradict myself too much, but at the same time, I don't really, because it all makes sense to me.

01 November 2008

Writing Journal, Day one

Hello, for the next seven days I am (fingers crossed) going to be keeping a journal of what I've written, and stuff related to writing, to help out the Yorkshire Young Writers' team. :) Here is a description of my task... http://yorkshireyoungwriters.blogspot.com/2008/10/journalling-week.html

Recently I've been suffering from a bit of writers' block. I did intend to write today, as I thought I'd have an hour or so in between hanging around with a friend and meeting my girlfriend. But practically as soon as I sat down, Bethan turned up...

It's not that I've not had the ideas to write about... just transferring that artful picture, an idea I want to capture in a poem, into actual words, has proved hard recently. I always used to get ideas in the form of words, I used to hang over a phrase I wanted to use, and just go from there. It's not happened like that for a long time. I can write when I force myself to, but I've barely written anything I feel like expanding upon in months.

I wanted to write something for Olivia's birthday, because she's probably the only reason I carried on with writing in the first place. And I need something to write for my school newspaper which is due to print on Wednesday, I think? It's really not coming, though.

But I figured, today, that maybe that creative conduit between the mind and art is beginning to rebuild. I had a really surreal day today, so much so that this day in itself could even be something I'd want to write about. I was getting flickers of phrases instead of just vague feelings. I'm sure true poets live their lives afloat a stream of gushing stanzas, but at least I'm trying.

Do you find writing in a group setting inspiring or do you prefer to write alone?

Or maybe it's because I've not been to Sheffield Young Writers properly, in a while. I've not read my friends' writing in ages; it's definitely good to share ideas... and while I always find my SYW work more restrained, I can almost always write at least something...

I should really get into the habit of writing things down as soon as I think them. I'm sure I forget so much stuff, because I don't do this. ST Coleridge began Kubla Khan after a psychedelic dream, waking and writing down all that he could of this bizarre vision, until he was interrupted by a knock at his door, and the dream's details floated away. I briefly wondered if I'd write brilliantly if I wrote everything down as soon as it popped into my head, and decided that it would probably be better writing if I did, but perhaps I shouldn't quite compare myself with Coleridge just yet...