I should write something about why I decided to start this blog and what I hope to accomplish. It’s probably a question you’ve all been asking yourselves if you’ve waded through any of the earlier entries.
I’ve been trying semi-seriously to write creatively since last year. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while and so finally decided to make time to get stuck in. I do write quite a lot in my job(s) but detailed technical specifications, business cases, appraisals and endless emails weren’t really stimulating my creative juices. Or those of the recipients, no doubt, but that’s by the by. Actually making progress on the creative stuff is proving harder than I expected.
One problem that I have with trying to write anything of any length is that I get dragged into the detail before I even start. By way of an example, a couple of months ago I was trying to write a Christmas ghost story. I didn’t want it to be too long or heavy, just a bit of pre-celebration fun to mail out to people. It was set around an old abandoned church that had stuck in my imagination about 15 years ago. I had something of an idea of the plot but the church itself needed to be almost a character in its own right. I needed a really strong sense of place to anchor the whole piece, before I even really fleshed out the characters, and so I looked at various Wikipedia entries on Church architecture of the appropriate period. I then looked at various websites for real Churches around the country, pinching the bits of architecture that I needed, looking up the architects that would have built them, working out how long it would have taken to erect it and so on. It took a couple of nights to get all this information together. And so it started...
“Every church has its congregation. All Souls was no different. It sat amidst a sprawling and overgrown cemetery, a jumble of angels, cast iron railings, tombs and meandering paths that made mock of whatever plan had been originally conceived for it by its Victorian architects. “
And then when I got a little further into the story I realised I needed the Church to be about 70 years older. Regency, rather than Victorian and so all the Gothic revival detail that I’d described later in the story was wrong and I needed to start again. By this time all my enthusiasm had ebbed away. I’ve also got a load of ‘post-it’ notes all over the whiteboard behind me in my study, looking over my shoulder, as I type this. They’re the story arcs for a play/screenplay, a ‘Wheedonesque’ rom-com that I’ve been kicking round in my head for about 5 years. So far, aside from a couple of synopses, spreadsheets and timelines, there’s nothing at all. This is a shame because I think it’s structurally really sound and could be a lot of fun.
I find it very difficult to write shorter pieces as well. I’ve been fiddling with various poems around for about nine months now, but only finished about seven or eight. There are about another thirty in various stages of progress and a large document full of snippets and the seeds of others. And poems don’t need any research, plotting, characters and characterisation – they just pour out of the wellspring of the soul, or something (pass me the laudanum Byron), so they should be easy to write, right? Except of course they aren’t. For a start I really need to be in the right mood to get anything on paper that I like. And then it’s so hard to know when they’re done. The more you edit and add to them, the more they squat lifelessly on the page, the extra verbiage weighing them down rather than setting them free to fly. So some nights you sit there and nothing comes. And others you sit there, work for an hour and end up deleting all your changes. I’m sure Tupac and Biggie didn’t have these problems.
Anyway, I thought that the brevity, frivolity and disposability of a blog might help me to get some pieces finished. That writing about little events or ideas as they occurred would keep me interested enough to jot them down. That publishing, even to a small audience, would make sure I actually drew the line at some point and declared ‘finished’. And that the discipline of trying to write a couple of entries a week would be good practise for knuckling down and churning the words out.
It’s not working out as easily as I’d hoped. I’d envisaged turning out each blog in a single draft. The poet Norman MacCaig (very well worth a look if you don’t know him) used to claim he knocked out a poem in “the time it takes to smoke two cigarettes” and I’m very taken with this idea. I like the idea of the spontaneity, each thought like a piece of red hot iron pulled from a kiln that has to be hammered into shape quickly, before it hardens into immutability. It’s not really working for me though. This stuff (believe it or not) is the edited version. I’m not a good enough writer to get it down first time. Or second. So they’re taking ages to write, re-write and edit. Heat and hammer.
The other problem is that it’s hard to pin down what I think. An opinion tossed out in conversation is often forgotten at the end of the next sentence. Anything I write here will stick around for a while and so I want to be comfortable that first of all I’m really clear in myself with what I’m trying to say and secondly it’s something I can justify if challenged. Not that I plan to go out on any limbs or upset anyone but if I’m going to open myself up at all then I want to be sure that it really is me, not just me posturing, saying something for effect or going for cheap shocks or laughs. And so when I hop aboard my train of thought it seems to take a more roundabout route and a lot longer to get to its destination that I expected. My brain, it seems, does not working in straight lines. And has leaves on the line, is susceptible to the wrong kind of snow and is plagued by industrial action. Let's leave that metaphor in a siding.
So, those are the reasons I’m writing a blog. I’ve no idea what your reasons for reading it are. It’s probably a dull afternoon at work. Sorry if I’ve not enlivened it up a little more. I do keep meaning to write something that’s supposed to be funny, but I’ve not managed it yet. I will do. Promise.
29th January 2011