How to write

I was pretty tempted to echo that old thing about, “You know how to whistle, dont you? You just pucker up and….”  but I thought better of it. The subject is a lot more complicated than that.

I’ve read and heard an awful lot about writing and especially how to write and I figured it was time to add my pennyworth. Anything said here is purely my opinion and I offer no facts and figures and statistics. It also needs to be said that I have as much right(or as little) as anyone to offer my opinion on this subject.

I’ve heard a lot about shoulds and gifts and discipline and planning and intuition and inspiration. I’ve heard that if you consider yourself a writer you should write every day even if you don’t want to. I’ve heard that you should plan every detail of your plot before you ever pen the opening lines. I’ve heard that you must honour your gift. I’ve heard of people who determine how many words they produce every day and those who write as much or as little as they feel is right. You can compare and contrast Anthony Trollope who wrote exactly a thousand words every day before his work as a postmaster began with William Golding, whose masterpiece Lord of the Flies was written in a frenzy of creativity in a space of about three days.



Got it?

There are as many ways and methods of writing as there are writers. We are each unique. In the course of a writing lifetime, you may try out many ways and be trying new methods till the day you die, or you may try a few, settle on what feels best and stick with it. I’ve tried a lot of things over my long writing career so far and I know that what works best for me can and will change. I generally write fiction in the third person but I have written one novel and a number of short stories in the first.  I do write almost every day, but there are days when all I write are a few emails, and maybe a shopping list. I know that if I make a rule for myself (a thousand words a day, two poems before breakfast..) I will almost immediately sabotage myself and find it impossible to do. It’s the same reason why the only exercise routines that have ever worked for me require me to not make it a matter of rule and why having a dog is the only reason I get fresh air almost every day in winter….

We are complex beings and when it comes to writing, there are no rules. Oh, and if you worry about grammar and spelling, don’t. Your grammar is probably better by far that you imagine; just because you can’t name tenses or tell me what a parenthesis is doesn’t mean you don’t have grammar. You grew up learning grammar as naturally as breathing. If your spelling is rubbish, invest in a good spellchecker or get a friend to look it over. Grammar and spelling are the bricks and mortar of writing and not, to be honest, terribly interesting in themselves or even very useful in writing well. If it really worries you, do a course in English language or buy a few books on grammar so you can check your grammar if you have uncertainties.

To write well is a nebulous thing that is almost impossible to quantify but good writing is often unobtrusive writing. You notice the story and not the elegance of the sentence construction or the choice of adjectives. Like the cut of a good suit, it should draw attention to the body inside it and not the outward appearance that clothes it.

I’m not a fan of experimental writing, because it does seem to be drawing attention to itself and not what it is trying to express. It can be terribly clever but it’s not something I want to read because I read generally for the story. Story is the animal that drives fiction. In simple terms, to write fiction you have to have something to say, and that something is a story. Even if your purpose is ideological (Animal Farm anyone?) the story is the meat of the thing. If you have nothing to say, then say nothing, or wait until you have something to say.

I’m also not a fan of creative writing courses. This is partly an irrational dislike that is linked to my resistance to rules but it’s more than that. I do wonder how many naturally talented people have had their talent warped or crushed by such courses. I’ve heard a few accounts of courses that made me shudder, ones led by people with huge egos and a massive need to put others down. Such people want to make people write like them or the favourite writer of the moment; the students are asked to write in the style of X, Y or Z and are marked on that. For me, a course needs to help people find their own style, by trial and error and not by mimicking others. Of course, one does this to some extent, especially as a teenager, but ultimately every writer needs to find their own voice. So many of the courses seem to do just the opposite. In addition to this, I don’t believe you can teach anyone to write who lacks the basic talents. There are plenty of people who like the thought of being a writer but have no heartfelt understanding of what this actually means;  for those, it means maybe playing with words in an entertaining way.  

Write your way, whatever that is. If that means blank verse only or haikus, or short stories or whatever, fine. If you write best at night, don’t listen to anyone who tells you that the best writing is done in the morning when the day is fresh. If it helps you to have a daily goal of so many words, great, stick with it. If you can only write on a Sunday, then write on a Sunday. If you can’t plan but you can splurge and write ten thousand words at a go and then work out where you go from there, then do that. If you can only begin when you’ve got every freckle and line on your heroine’s face mapped out in triplicate, then go for it.

You are you and I am I. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa. By all means try other things; it’s good for you to experiment and explore but above all, be true to yourself and listen to your own inner voice. If that voice tells you that you can write a novel when you’ve only ever written short stories, listen to it.

Be the writer you want to be and not what other people tell you you should be. Just as your DNA is unique, so too is your writing voice.



A guide book to midlife depression

One of the presents I was given this Christmas was a book by a blog pal who has been producing some of the finest blog posts I have ever read concerning the journey of the soul, viewed “Through a Jungian Lens”. Robert Longpre, who many of you will know from his retiredeagle blog (see blogroll) has been producing his own photo books and finally I got a copy of the second, “Through a Jungain Lens: Swamplands and Soul” that I have been craving for a long while. There’s something in me that often will not buy for myself things that will do me good, and though I knew this book would do me good, I couldn’t bring myself to buy it for myself. Silly, I guess.

Anyway, my husband secretly bought me a copy and now I have it in my lap as I read. It’s hard to quantify what makes this such a special book for me: the intense photos, that draw you into a landscape that is at once familar as it is strange or the thoughtful and intuitive prose. The final section is a translation of The Dark Night of the Soul by St John of the Cross, a poem I have long loved, set with photos that enhance the poem.

There’s no real set path for surviving the midlife crisis but hearing that another has survived it is heartening and encouraging. This is a guide book to one man’s experience and it may help you in yours as I think it may help me in my journey through the coming years.

So, go to: and have a scout around and see what leaps out at you.

Solstice: Saluto Sol Invictus!

Solstice Dance

21st December 09


The year finally turns

Pirouetting en pointe

The Dancer meets the Dance:

I am renewed


I have been waiting for this day since the evenings began to creep in back in September; and yet, now it’s here, I feel no different. The poem isn’t a lie but it isn’t how I feel.  It may well be the truth, a statement of reality that I have to slowly wake up to. But the walk I had today, in woods and beach frozen and layered with snow, makes me feel that winter is still going to grip my soul a long while:

Solstice haikus

21st December 09


Snow on dark holly

Sunlight on ice, sparkling bright:

Lovely but  so bleak


Silence fills cold air

Crunching feet on frozen snow:

Stillness reigns again.

How to survive Christmas..and almost anything else!

This is based partly on a piece of advice my father has given me on a number of occasions, sometimes when I’ve been stressed out about packing up a house for a move or exams or whatever.

You just tell yourself from time to time that this time next week/next month/whatever time frame is involved, it will all be over; the things you worried about and stressed about won’t matter any more, because they are done with and are now just memories.

Put simply: This too will pass.

Christmas is just ONE day. It really it worth remembering this every time you get worried you haven’t done enough, bought enough, made enough….ENOUGH, it’s just one day. Whether its good or bad for you- one day. One day of twenty four hours like any other where you eat and sleep and visit the bathroom and so on. One day. Not any more magical or special than any other day of the year, any more than New Year’s Eve is somehow more powerful for making resolutions.

If there is any magic, it’s inside you and it’s there any day and every day. So go and be magical, wherever and whenever you are.

Bad times, sad times

I came across this article today and it goes some way to explaining why I would rather not ever go back into a parish…

Vicar’s family ‘forced out of area’

You may need to cut and paste the address as it doesn’t seem to be making a link.

Stories without Words

At the close of last week I was introduced to a very cool new blog that I just have to share with you all.

(See blogroll for link, this doesn’t seem to be working here!)
has a wonderful idea: presenting a daily picture and asking for writers, poets, songwriters, and essayists to write whatever that picture inspires in them. Now all the photos are extraordinary(and indeed the artists are often well-known or even very famous in this arena) and they are all happy to have their work used in this way. The owner of the blog, Roka, gains their permission to use their images and also moderates all offerings. The basic rules are: no profanity and no critiquing of the work of others unless specifically asked for.
I know that many of my readers are also writers so what better way of keeping the literary joints supple than a daily dose of flash fiction or poetry?
Go on over and have a peep; have a go too if you find a picture that gets your creative juices flowing.

A first

It would appear there is more than one clever bugger out there..

Huge thanks to Jonathan aka Madpriest from Of Course I Could be Wrong for the help in doing this. Not being a techie I was lost….
This ought to link to the song that mentions the Queen of Sheba.
Its from Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band’s album Gold Frankincense and Myrrh and the track is called Balthazar, the third and youngest of the so-called Wise men or Magi who visited Christ as a baby. Considering I’ve recently seen the Ark that contains the relics of the Magi, it seems appropriate. Enjoy! It’ll only be up for a week as I am borrowing bandwidth so don’t delay!

Singing the Storm

I’ve been struggling to put into words how I am feeling. Me, struggling with words. Me, who is often described to others as a wordsmith. Me, who is seldom at a loss for words and never for long.

I trawled my archive of poems and found nothing. I had a little rummage in the mindbox where I store half completed poems. Nothing. I wanted to add a photo but it seems almost impossible to add them right now.

I’m feeling frozen inside, numb, without feeling. All my responses are slowed down. It’s taken me two days to wrap, pack and send the presents for friends and family outside the UK. There were only four. I’m trying to get ready for this seasonal event that comes every year and yet I am never ready for. I collected together all my Christmas and Solstice related music CDs and started playing them as I was getting on with the chores.

One of my favourites of all time for this time of year is Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band’s Gold Frankincense and Myrrh, which has some real earthy and hipshivering stuff you could bellydance too. I found myself dancing. Now in some this is normal response to music. In me, it’s highly unusual and rather worrying behaviour and nor did it proceed out of joy. The dog got anxious as I pranced around the living room, bubble wrap in hand. I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on in me and I was far from happy about it. Imagine the scenario of the Red Shoes…

One of the songs is a real belter about the Queen of Sheba. I wish I were a clever bugger like J and could work out how to put a music link on here. I was washing up by this stage, and waiting for the washing machine to finish so I could hang out the clean clothes. My daughter came down and I said, rather to her surprise “I wish I could have met the Queen of Sheba” but then that’s a fairly normal thing compared with some fo the things I say. And then, though she didn’t see, I burst into tears because….well, I don’t know why. Because I will never meet the Queen of Sheba? I don’t know. Probably not.

I think it’s down to the fact that as I have written about before I can’t seem to get the hang of feeling the good STRONG emotions. I don’t really recognise them; they’re painful in so many ways.

The music I was playing is very lively, very sensual and emotive music, with intelligent and thoughtful lyrics and it was singing up a storm in me that I just couldn’t deal with. The chaos of emotions got channelled into a familar path, that of pain and longing and disappointment, and I lost the joy and the freedom that the music held. If I go now and play it again, the same will happen. I’ll get swept along for a short time with the buoyant wave of feeling before the dark comes to claim me again. I don’t know how to do it differently. 

I changed the CD after that and put on some classical flute music recorded by a very talented friend of mine but while beautiful, the music was cold and silvery, like icicles chiming as the winter wind blows them. It calmed me enough to compose myself and put aside the inner chaos. I can’t afford to let myself be swept away. I have things I must do and to break down now would be stupid.

But one day I want to sing up the storm myself and ride it out, like hitching a lift on a hurricane and see where it drops me.

I’d be willing to bet it won’t be Kansas anymore, Toto.