Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Happy Holidays from Thistle Wren.

Not much to report as we've been busy with Christmas stuff.

I have two poems appear in Three Drops from a Cauldron's Midwinter Issue. Please check it out. They are a lovely online magazine focusing on pagan and mythical writings. They have a quick response time which is always appreciated as well

I'm also enjoying writing a poem based on this prompt from Trish Hopkinson's guest blogger of looking up words in a dictionary and using the words before and after to make a poem. 

Have a lovely holiday season. 

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Ups and Downs

After feeling so positive and energised at last week's post, my mood and writing have taken a nose-dive this week. I haven't done any new writing or any daily prompts. I know it's a blip and I'll come out the other side, so I'm trying not to beat myself up over it. I've had a very productive year, so I'm not complaining at all. I can't wait to look over the numbers for the year in January. 

On a happier note, I did get an acceptance for 5 poems for an online magazine that I've been trying to get into for a while. I'll post a link when it's up. 

I also think I may have figured out a way to get around my problems with my novel, though I don't have any energy to actually do the rewriting. I've sketched out the idea in one of my notebooks, but I will have to go back to the beginning of the novel to make the changes. Hopefully in the new year I can start that and take the revised chapters to my writing group

The kids are off school at the end of the week, so I'll be taking some down-time anyway. I hope to do a bit of writing, but won't be able to commit much time. But now that they're older and can entertain themselves a bit more, I should be able to carve some writing space out. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

A Poem A Day and Blogging

If you had told me six months ago that I could write a decent draft of a poem a day, I would have said maybe as a fluke, but never regularly. I've always written very slowly, shaping and tinkering, but my recent online writing courses have taught me to trust my instinct and to just dive in to my writing.  Keeping writing practice as a daily activity helps to make it possible, like keeping the writing muscles limber. I've turned about 10 out of the 17 non-course prompts I've done into poems, some still pretty rough drafts, but some already submitted to magazines.

I'm finding my prompts from various places: newspaper articles and books I'm reading, places I'm at, websites that have daily prompts. I like to have someone else pick my prompts as otherwise I try to find ones that fit my preconceived ideas about what I should write about. I prefer when surprises appear in my writing

Reoccuring themes have been showing up, often to do with Scotland. I'm debating whether I want to add the poems I've written to my Scottish collection as they are part of the themes there, but while they're still being considered by publishers I'll just leave them. 

The poet Luisa A Igloria has been an inspiration in my daily writing. She has written and posted daily poems for over 8 years. She shares them on the Via Negativa blog which she shares with Dave Bonta who also writes daily. And while I'm sure she finds that not every one is good or worthy of publication, she has managed to produce four full length collection and 3 chapbooks and has won lots of awards in that time so it can be worth-while to write daily. I now have enough for at least one more collection after my Scottish and Finnish ones, but there's no obvious thematic flow so I'm not trying to put anything together right now.

Dave Bonta also does a weekly round-up of the Poet Bloggers Revival which I joined up. I'm not included in his round-up, but it's nice to read briefly what other bloggers are writing about and sometimes follow back to the original blog for more. It's interesting how he can often find themes stretching across the world to various poets. 

I'm quite chuffed that I've managed to keep up my weekly blogging this year. I might have missed one or two when on holiday, but otherwise, even when I was feeling quite low, I managed to write something. It gave me a goal to achieve, something to feel like I was still writing even when I couldn't produce a poem or a line of fiction. 

Less than two weeks before the kids finish for Christmas, so hopefully I can keep things going in that time and then ease down for the break. Take care.

Monday, 3 December 2018

What I'm Reading Now and Ticking Along

I'm still trying to do the daily prompt and one way I'm getting ideas is Karl Ove Knausgård's book Autumn, a collection of vignettes written to his unborn daughter about every day items. He writes about apples or jellyfish, badgers, plastic bags and labia among other things. It's a quiet, meditative book, nothing shocking or earth-shatteringly beautiful but it has a lovely reflective feel to it and sometimes the language is hauntingly beautiful and melancholic. I carry it about and read it in short bursts in waiting rooms. There's three more in the series that I might get, following the names of the seasons, but it really makes me want to read his My Struggle series which is also autobiographical.

Anyway, I'm occasionally taking the subject of one of his sections and using that as a prompt for my own writing. Sometimes I get a poem, other times I just spend the time writing with no final output. I like the fact that I'm keeping up with writing practices, not every day, but often enough that I don't feel like I'm wasting my writing time. The poems are still coming, not daily like with the course, but one or two a week which I'm happy with. 

Otherwise, it's just back to the normal writing, editing, submitting, attending my writing group. I'm only working on poetry though we had a craft week on Friday discussing dialogue. We did a short writing exercise and it reminded me why I'm not working on my novel right now. I just can't get a feel for it at the moment, the characters just feel so tangled up, I can't get a hold on them or their motivations. So I'm happy to continue on with my poetry until I see a way out. It's still percolating in the back of my head, but I'm not really giving it any paper time.  

Enjoy your week. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Reviving Old Work

We've recently had some of our possession shipped over from Scotland after languishing in a loft for over 8 years. We thought we were going back, we still don't know. There were old letters and photographs, books like Richard Hugo's, Edwin Muir's and Sorley MacLean's Collected Works, a Scots Dictionary, my notebooks for my Italian and Scottish Gaelic studies. But one of the real surprises was a pile of old poems. I mean old, dot matrix print-outs from 1991-1996.

Most are crap, but it's interesting to see though my style has changed, but my subject matter hasn't. Two poems I'm trying to revive from this mess are on similar themes I've been working with lately: my exchange year in Norway 30 years ago and a trip I took island-hopping around the West coast of Scotland. My writing style has pared down a lot in the past 25 years. I'm having to cut a lot of extra words, description that doesn't do anything and sometimes focus the direction of the poems. We'll see if I'm able to make anything from them.

I used to write more third person, fictional poems which I don't really do anymore. And lots of miserable love/ falling out of love poems. And poems that sounded poetic but didn't say anything. I might try and do some free writing from the vocabulary or rewrite some of the poorly executed ideas. It really is a laugh to read over them and I'm glad I didn't throw them out. Like my journals from 35 years ago, I like to see growth and change and am not embarrassed about who I used to be, naive of course, but weren't we all.

I received three rejections on Friday evening in my Inbox, bam, Bam BAM. Not a nice start to the weekend. All three were from magazines I've tried before. One was quite a big magazine so I didn't expect to get in, but second rejections for the smaller ones smarted. But I dusted myself off and sent the poems out again. It would be nice to get a couple of acceptances before the end of the year, it's been a quiet few months. And I wait.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Chasing My Tail

I don't know where the week has gone, but I know I haven't written much. I've spent the morning making cookies for my daughter's Christmas fund raiser, so that gives you an idea of the kind of things I've been up to. I don't think I've done a single prompt since I wrote my last post, until I managed one today while I waited for my son at the physio.

I'm missing the flow of the poetry writing course I've been doing, editing while waiting for the next prompt to appear in my inbox, writing on that and then reading the other poets' submissions before I post my own rough draft. I just haven't been able to get myself into a similar rhythm this last week on my own.

I did send my Scottish collection out to another publisher with a heavy heart because it feels like admitting that the other publisher probably won't take my collection. I know this is a possibility anyway because it's unlikely that I'll get an acceptance from my first submission, but I do like to cling on to a bit of hope. I like the look of this other publisher as well, so hopefully something will come from one of them soon.

I've been chasing up a few submissions the past few weeks, ones that were over six months or even a year with no response. One admitted it had been 'buried in our process' so they're hoping to get to it in the next few weeks and another that I've had to chase through social media is going back to check and see what's happened. Others haven't responded so I'm assuming that there's an issue with the address or they're too busy, so am submitting those poems elsewhere, if I haven't already.  It's amazing how much an up-to-date website can help writers submitting their work. A note saying you've fallen way behind in your reading or that if you haven't heard back from us in six months, feel free to submit your work to other journals, is so helpful when you're waiting for responses. 

I try to double check email addresses and such before sending queries as I have had times when they've changed procedures or closed the magazines after I've submitted and my poems have fallen into a limbo. It's a frustrating process. You don't want to annoy the editor with query letters too soon, but it's nice to not be wasting your time, tying up poems for six months or more if they've lost a submission or never received it.

I've had a few poems published in the short poem journal Shot Glass JournalIt's nice to see the magazine strives to have a mix of US and international poets. Enjoy.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Prompting Myself

Though a lot of my writing books are still annoyingly in a loft in Scotland I still have a few that have writing prompts and suggestions for writing exercises. This week I've been trying to pick one a day to do a writing practice with.

This week has been crazy with appointments for the kids so I haven't done one every day, but I have managed four and will hopefully do another today.

One issue I've discovered is I that I can't just pick a prompt that appeals to me, I need to just pick one at random or if it's in a book that has them daily, pick the one for that day. I was trying to find prompts with a subject I had in mind, forcing them too much to fit into my idea and it showed. I'm going to try and be more loose and open with my prompts in the future and hopefully this will take me to unexpected places with a lighter feel to the writing.

I'm still editing my Finnish collection, changing the order, reading it out-loud as I edit, adding poems. I've also started writing my blurb for it which I always find difficult. How to sell yourself without it feeling forced or cheesy or unnatural, without falling into tropes or cliches?

Besides the blurb, I love the work required to bring together a collection. Tinkering to improve poems that are already done. Trying to establish an arc between the poems, weeding out the ones that don't fit. Bringing it all together. I'll print it out soon and give it another look at ordering and read-through. It should be ready to send out in a week or two.

But then there's a question of what to do with it. My Scottish collection is still at my first choice publisher. I could send this one out to some of the other potential publishers, but it feels a bit wrong. Publishers usually want to publish your follow up books, so ideally it'll come out with the same publisher.

It is also in a sense chronological with my other books. My first book, already published covers years from 1988 to around 1994/5, the Scottish collection covers years 1993-2010 and the Finnish collection covers years 2010 to the present. It would feel off to me if the Finnish book was published before the Scottish one.

I'm crazy, I know. In reality, I'd be happy if either was accepted for publication, but I'd really like the Scottish one to be published first. I guess I'll finish the Finnish collection and go from there. Maybe it's time to send out my Scottish collection to some other publishers.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Post-Course Slump

Once the prompts stop, there's this emptiness. What do you do in the morning if you're not trying to write to a prompt? How do I start a poem on my own again? 

Silliness, I know. I have a bunch of books to look up my own prompts from. I can still sit down every morning and write regardless. I have been trying to when schedule permits. But there is a sense of loss when a good course closes down. The pressure of deadlines, the camaraderie of the other students' responses, their own writing and the discussions of writing in general, the push to write.  

The community is what I miss most. Writing is a solitary pursuit a great deal of the time. Finding a good writing group or course, one that fits your needs, your schedule, your style can be difficult. Writing groups can go for years at a slow trot, but sometimes you get a really good mix of people who just click, who know how to respond and encourage you to improve your writing and it's like a burst of adrenaline. 

Once the course stops or the writing group ceases to be as useful, what is a writer to do? Find another course or group, continue to slog on until you can build up your own momentum. 

I've created writing groups from members of courses that have really worked well. In Scotland we had a good fiction group that was formed after a course. It lasted for several years until we moved abroad. We met once a month and shared full chapters. It was a really positive and creative atmosphere. It's been nice to see a couple of the members get worked published since then. 

I'm slogging on until February when the next course begins. I decided against the more intensive course in January because it is more structured, but starts with the basics. While it never hurts to go back and reexamine the fundamentals, it's not what I want to do right now. If you're interested in the course, check this link though be quick as it has limited places and a high interest from members of the previous courses.

I've written 22 poems from the 31 prompts from this last session. I may continue to revisit the ones I haven't completed yet over the next week or so, but I'm pretty happy with that number. I'll continue to tighten those poems up and send them out for submissions. I'm also still working on the my new collection. And still waiting on the old.

And I might even crack out a prompt or two of mine own, just to keep the juices flowing. 

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Winding Up Autumn

I've managed to catch up a bit with my writing from a prompt a day, 17 out of 30, and I'm back to at least sketching out a poem every day if not writing a good first draft. So that's encouraging and many of us will continue to write once the group is finished, so the sharing of our efforts will continue for a bit on the Facebook page.

Many of the poems I've been writing have been working from the problems I had a few months ago that put me in such a dark place. It's cathartic to be able to work through some of those emotions and the fall out to what happened. There's still things I won't touch on, but the end of summer and autumn in full force seems to be a good metaphor for the time. I've been grouping these poems into a rough collection just now, though I'm not sure where they'll take me in the end. 

I'm struggling with the oncoming winter darkness. I work to my UV sunlamp most mornings, but I still want to curl up on the couch under a blanket and hibernate. I have no energy for fiction at all. I'm enjoying the burst I've been getting from these courses for my poetry, but untangling the mess my novels have become seems like too much work. The new novel has become too complicated, I can't figure out how to express all the character's motivation. It's never enough for my readers, they either want more dramatic complications or less. 

So I think I need a break from fiction. Wendy Pratt's next online course won't be until January and it's a more intense, limited numbers course. Then February will be back to the original set-up. I'm torn whether to do the January course. I like the daily prompts, but this will be two weekly assignments which will get some close reading from Wendy instead. I guess it won't hurt to try it and it will give me something to focus on until February. 

I've been working a bit on my Finnish poetry collection. I think I have all the poems, just trying to sort format and editing. I still haven't heard about my Scottish collection's fate at the publishers.

So I keep on moving on. 

Monday, 22 October 2018

Getting Back into the Hard Slog

I took a week off because we had visitors who we took around the area and also over to Estonia, so was very busy, but I managed to scribble notes for a few prompts.

I'm struggling with this session and I don't think it's all down trying to fit poems in between carnivals and ferry cruises. 

While the subject of autumn is one I enjoy, I feel it's too much for so many prompts in a row. I'm feeling like I'm repeating myself a bit, in terms of language as well as imagry. Sometimes it's coincidence, like last week there was a prompt of the language of trees and I wrote a very aural poem. Today's prompt is to write about the sounds of autumn. 

We're just getting into the aging theme and again it's not grabbing me. The tutor is trying to look at the themes from lots of different angles, but I'm finding many just aren't eliciting an immediate response from me like the last session.

This week I'm focussing on writing again, get myself back into it and revisit some of the prompts in the hope of producing something for them. So far I've written 9 poems for 20 prompts which seems much less than last month when I managed 24 out of 30. A lot more focus is needed this week before my next house guest comes. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

How to Work from a Poetry Prompt

I'm just starting my second writing course based around writing prompts and this style really suits me. At the beginning of each week my mentor provides a lesson on a various theme and provides some poetic examples and then every day for that week she gives us a prompt and encourages us to write a poem from it. 

Writing prompts can come in many different packages; generic or specific, questions, a theme, a list of words, a form (sonnet, haiku), first words. Not all prompts work for me first time, but I can usually write something for most of them. I also have books of writing practice prompts which I occasionally turn to. 

This post will look at the various ways I approach a prompt and turn it into a poem. My teacher for this course likes a mixture of specific and general themes. As the course is based around autumn that's the general theme, but she also likes to focus us on a sense, a poetic style, a specific side of autumn or autumny situations we can use as material for our poems. 

There, of course, is no pressure to stick exactly the theme or prompt. The idea of writing prompts is to kick start your creative juices. Show up everyday, have something to latch our minds to and hopefully we will be able to produce something - maybe only notes or a rough first draft, but sometimes a completed poem. 

One thing I like to do is make lists of words that the prompt calls to mind, images, sensory details, notes on places and events. I recently made the list for a poem I was writing about an autumn day's event - charcoal cinders embers crackle singe burnt toast firepit sizzle pop - when trying to focus on the image of a fire. I wanted to use as many 'new' words to describe a fire as possible, so this was pushing me to branch out from the usual words of flame, flicker, etc. I used all of those words in my final poem.

I also do stream of consciousness writing where I just move from one image or idea to the next, not trying to shape anything. I may move off topic or fall down a rabbit hole of an idea, but if I keep pushing myself to write the next word I often end up with the basis of material I can then work further on. Sometimes I hit upon a line that actually leads me to the poem. 

This is the stream of conscious writing I did in connection with the same theme above - 

damp earth underfoot wet logs and leaves wet leaves smell of rainy dogs running muddy footprints through the house eyes warmed faces and knees burnt sugar of marshmallows toasted then singed popping skin of sausages juices sizzling drip down sticky fingers licked muddy boots wool itch the new years rises and falls like the wood smoke before our eyes stinging then clearing wood smoke lingers on wool jumpers

There's no punctuation, a few repeats, no attempt to write proper sentences or worry about where I was going. Very few of those words ended up in the poem. That last bit about wood smoke is the bit that linked me into the idea of the poem I eventually wrote. After that I began to write about the rain and going to the place, but eventually that was pared down as well. 

Rarely a poem comes out fully-formed. One day I had the theme of 'weeds' and I wrote down a old teacher's surname and my mind just took off and I wrote three pages unhindered. It was the rough draft of the poem, very close to what I finished with after some tweaking. That's a nice feeling, but I'm not bothered if I have to spend more time drawing out a stubborn poem. I believe they can be just as strong as the first impression poems. 

When I'm drawing a total blank I just write a series of words that will hopefully jump start a memory or an idea. A prompt about keys had me writing house key, shed key, plot key, car key, suitcase key, journal key until I stumbled upon what to write about, though I'm still not sure about it. 

Sometimes I need to do a bit of research, our themes have often had specific events or places or objects connected to them, so I need to get a feel for an ancient site or a mythical being I don't have knowledge of. I read a couple of articles and take a few notes and then try and move on as fast as possible. It's easy to sucked into the gravity of internet research, but it's better to be writing. I also want my poems to reflect my take on a subject, not Wiki's. 

Unless you are following competition instructions, it's perfectly fine to wander off topic. I've avoided rhymes or not written proper haiku or veered way past a subject when my writing took me in a different direction. And my poems were better for it, rather than forced into uncomfortable moulds. 

Since I've started doing these prompt courses I've been able to write the rough draft of a poem in one day. The process of sitting down daily to a prompt works for me, maybe not every day, but enough that I have churned out some decent work. Two of my poems from my last month-long course have just been accepted for publication, so they're not too bad, I guess. 

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

October - Back to Poetry

Wendy Pratt's online course started yesterday and there's been a flurry of writing and reading poetry about autumn. It fits right in with the weather and mood here. I'm already enjoying her daily prompts and am writing about autumny things we did at the weekend; walking in the woods, open fires, harvesting apples and pumpkins. 

The switch back to poetry has been welcomed. I've been working on my Finnish poetry collection. I have it whittled down to 74 pages currently and am reading it through and editing, rearranging, thinking about themes. See this previous post for more ideas of how to prepare a collection. It's early days yet, I'll see what I write for this course before I'm ready to say it's totally done. 

I'm still waiting to hear from the publisher who has my Scottish collection. I'd like to say I don't think about it, but I give it a small thought every night as I'm trying to fall asleep. I want to hear, but I also don't want to know if the news is negative. It's been almost six months which isn't unusual, but if difficult after the excitment of finishing the collection and sending it off. I could send it to more than one publisher and I probably will after a while, but I wanted to try this publisher first as it really felt like a good fit from my research. 

October 4th is National Poetry Day in the UK. Check out this link for local events and also check out local libraries, community centres and bookshops. 


Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Backtracking - Rewriting Fiction

My second novel was written with no plan, no plot in mind. Just a setting, a character and a question. I let the character travel through her world to find an answer to the question. After the first draft was done, the question had been answered but it wasn't so important to the story anymore. Other questions, problems appeared, new characters became a focus as well.

My second draft has been trying to explore some of the ideas that developed later in my writing and to work in these new threads from the beginning. I've submitted my rewritten chapters to my writing group over the past year and we've reached Chapter Eight recently. Again, my readers asked new questions, showed interest in minor characters, struggled with aspects of the story. So I've been going back over the first seven chapters to makes sure it flowed and there weren't repeats or continuity errors or just problems.

I've also asked another writer to reread all seven chapters together. The problem with submitting 1,500 words at a time to the group that there is often long gaps between sections, as in the summer when I went on holiday, and not everyone can attend every weeks, so readers miss out on parts. Having a reader go over everything up to a certain point can give you good feedback on flow, pacing and development. 

I'm doing the same for another writer as he has also submitted about four chapters of his novel and we've both had the same sort of feedback about slow development. Our group mostly contains fantasy, science fiction genre pieces, so our two novels which are literary fiction, mostly relying on character development for their action rather than fighting or physical activities often feel slow. It's been helpful to get feedback on how things are working so far. 

And now that I have his comments I'm going over the chapters again. I'm also pushing forward with the next section for group this week. Until I get a firmer handle on the story, I'll continue to go back and rework as I move forward. It would have been easier to have a strong plot sorted before I started, but I can't always work that way. For me fiction develops from a grain of an idea and grows, expands as you learn more about the characters and the place you've set them in. It's one of my favourite things about the genre. I'm willing to take the time to move slowly back and forth over my story until I feel it's ready to face the world. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2018


The weather has definitely switched to autumn here, lots and lots of rain, temps cool enough to put on the heating, a desire to light a fire and wrap up in blankets. So it feels like time to start making plans and preparing. Harvest time.

Halloween is the end of the old year in the pagan calendar. I'm not a pagan, but I've always like this idea. My birthday is near Halloween so it's always been my new year point as well. For me autumn is a time to take stock, to prepare for the new year, to gather in resources and provisions for the winter. To finish old jobs and start new ones.

Life has given me a jolt and I've needed some time to curl up and reevaluate things from a distance. The same applies to my writing. The last week was quiet, but now I want to really begin to move forward.

I'm hoping the new course will give me lots of new poems to work with in October, but I also want to look at my Finnish poetry collection at terms of how I can start shaping it. I have enough poems as the moment for a full collection, but I need to reassess it in terms of theme and direction. See if I need to fill in any gaps or start from a new direction.

I'd like to read through the first 8 chapters of my second novel, the point where I've reached with my writing group, and see if it flows coherently. There's a worry from my writing group about pacing and development, so I need to look into that.

With my first novel, I need to brave looking at it again. I set it aside after rewriting the beginning as it needed time to set in my head. Now I need to read through it and see if it works and go forward with the rewriting if I'm happy with it.

So I'm taking small steps forward and it feels right for where I'm at just now. 

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Slow Week

I'm still here. 

I haven't written in days, things have been chaotic, my brain hasn't been able to stay focussed on anything. 

I've signed up for Wendy Pratt's new poetry course which should get me back on track in October. Autumn is my favourite season, so hopefully I will find some inspiration in her prompts again this time. 

In the meantime, I'm taking it slow. Working on my fiction for the writing group, submitting work to magazines.

Hopefully I can turn this down time around soon. 

In the meantime, here's a magazine that's included my work in their first issue, Nitrogen House.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Face the Darkness

It's starting to creep in, that darkness, sliding into my poems. It wants to be heard and as much as I don't want to allow it in, I'm opening myself up to it. It hurts, it's hurtful. I'm not sure if it's helping yet, but maybe it will in the long run. 

I know if I hold it in, try to resist it will build up and hurt more. It's a fine line to tread. I'm not sharing my work with those it affects, just the anonymous people on my online course. It feels a bit like letting go of a held breath, just a moment's release of tension.

My poetry course has finished and while I've found it hard to keep up with all that's going on, it has been good for me and for my writing. An external focus, a way to keep moving forward. I still have a few prompts I haven't written anything for, so I'll try and catch up with those over the next week or so. Or let them simmer in the background to see if anything comes of them in the future. Wendy Pratt is offering another course in October on autumn and aging, so I will probably sign up for that as well.

I do need to get back into my fiction. But to be honest I have no enthusiasm for it right now. I took the next section to my writing group and got decent feedback that gives me some direction with which to edit it, but I have set it aside. Usually I come back from the group and start working on it right away. I'll look at it again during the week when the house is quiet.

There's no rush and no need to beat myself up if I just want to leave it, do the bare minimum to keep taking chapters to my group, but to focus on poetry for the most part. Sometimes it's useful to have several projects on the go, if you go off the boil with one you can pick up another.

So I'm treading soft, allowing the writing to take me where I want to go. It's scary, but also feels very grown-up, trusting myself and my art.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Working Through It

Another tough week. I've tried to focus on the daily writing prompts as a way of getting through it. Some days it worked because the prompt clicked with me, other times I couldn't see past the fog to focus on the prompt or anything at all. But I'm trying to be present at my notebook and computer every day possible. Even if I scratch nothings before giving up. 

I haven't been able to write much about the things going on lately, even in my journal, but I see it sneaking into the poems I'm writing. I'll let it simmer, reach out tendrils when it needs to as I try to work my way through it, in my head and in my writing. 

I have written 20 new poems this year, 12 through this poetry course with another 7 still in progress. That's one more than last year already. So I'm considering the course a success. For a tenner, it's been totally worth it. I will probably take the next one in October which will possibly be about autumn and aging which feels appropriate for the turn in the weather and my emotional mood. I feel I've aged a lot this month. 

I need to get back into my fiction, however. All this focus on poetry has slowed down my work on my current novel. But my writing group is back to a quieter, more serious venue, so I hope to return to bringing my novel sections rather than poems which seemed more appropriate for a busy cafe. Unfortunately, most of us are working on novels or longer fiction, so getting through 4 or 5 longer pieces in a night is difficult. Poems are quicker to discuss and they're getting better at it as most of them are not comfortable with poetry. 

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Step Back or Set Back

Sometimes when the writing is going really well, flowing along, life intervenes with a hard smack. I had been writing every day furiously, almost completing a poem a day, working on the fiction as well, but something bigger and more important came up and I had to stop without warning. It felt like all my momentum came smashing up behind me and dropped into emptiness.  

There are times you have to stop and turn your focus away from your writing. There's no point in beating yourself up and adding to your stress. Step away, put your energy where it is most needed. Using regular writing practice as a way of waking yourself into writing means you have the skills to pick it up again. It may take time to bring yourself back up to a good speed, but a break doesn't have to equal an end. 

Writing can also be a way to deal with these big problems life throws at you. I'm not ready yet, but writing out throughts can help sort through the various sides of dilemmas. You can address letters, rants, poems to your present or future self, to the issue itself, to the other people involved or keep a journal of the difficult time. You can also burn everything afterwards if it's too much to hang on to or face again. 

I'm slowly crawling back. I've written a few poems, but some mornings I just sit and stare at the screen with this darkness of the other thing overwhelming me. But I know the words are in me and they will wait until I am ready and they can help pull me through.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Poetic Migration

I went into Wendy Pratt's poetry inspired by nature course wanting to write poems about our recent trip to Scotland. I wrote one poem on that subject and then one on a biology teacher from 30 years ago, one of squirrels, one on a moose loose in Helsinki. An ancient olive tree, a university building, a beach and a house from my childhood. My poems travel from the US, Scotland, Norway, Iceland, Greece, Finland, just as I have. And now strangely enough the prompt for today is to write on migration and our connection to it.

My poems trace my travels, my settling in places, my growing and adapting to fit those new locations. Finding a creature that fits my migration pattern is impossible: US to Norway and back. To Scotland and then Greece back to Scotland and then Finland. An animal that starts off alone but creates a family along the way, who settles for long periods and then picks up again.

I've already written on the barnacle geese that migrate from Finland. I love monarchs and their mass migrations 'blackened embers weighing down branches' and as the prompt also wants a strong sensory feeling I love humpback whales for the iconic sounds and movements 'slip slow motion, booming and humming their song'. And the reindeer migrations also mean a lot to me. I don't know which way to go, maybe incorporate all of them.

I'm enjoying the process, how sometimes I really have to think and plan and other prompts just spark something within me right away and I can just scribble something down and it coalesces into a poem. I return to old memories and haunts, greet faces I haven't remembered in decades. I never know where I'm going to end up or find my inspiration from.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Back in the Groove with Poetry

Obviously what I've been needing to get my poetry writing going again is daily prompts and rough deadlines. One week into Wendy Pratt's online poetry course and I've written five poems. Almost a poem a day which is unhead of for me. They're coming together quickly and solidly. The prompts aren't earth-shatteringly complicated or different from ones I've done in the past. They're all focused around nature and our place within it and relationship to it. Some ask for a specific structure or form, others don't. There's no problem if you go off topic or don't follow the form. The main goal is to get us writing.

We can if we choose, post our poems on a secret Facebook page and the feedback is mostly positive with a bit of critical suggestions. The writers are all of varying level, so we're mostly trying to encourage. I'm missing more critical feedback, but that's what I thrive on. There's over 40 people on the course and you're lucky to get 5-7 comments, including Wendy's. I'd maybe like the opportunity to submit one poem for finer feedback from Wendy, but in reality she'd have to charge more than a tenner for that, just for the time it takes, time forty students. So for what it is, the course is good value for money. Some of these poems I wouldn't have written without the course, others I had in the back of my mind and I found a prompt to fit. All new writing is good.

Can I keep this up after this course finishes or should I sign up for Wendy's next course, which she's hinted will be on age/aging? I'm not sure. In theory, she's not offering anything I couldn't do myself. A daily prompt and some basic feedback. I can find a prompt from my books or my head, I can use my writing group more for poetry which I did do last week. But there's something different about someone else taking the lead, coming up with the prompts, setting a deadline, a group atmosphere even if it's unlikely that anyone would notice if I didn't post a poem. 

And it's obviously working for me. I'm enjoying the pressure and challenge and I even like some of my poems, others I will continue to work on.

The University of Iowa fiction course continues to flail. This week's section again has issues with the discussion questions. One question is pasted in 3 times. But I have enjoyed the most recent podcast I watched, the author actually had a bit of a screen presence and was discussing problems similar to what I'm having in my book. I've written that difficult scene and am now moving on to editing the following one, so that's a good thing. I'll keep pushing on.

My youngest went back to nursery on Monday so I've had a bit more time to work in the mornings, almost interruption free as the older kids either go out or disappear in the house with their books or toys. I'm trying to write my poem, do a chunk of the fiction course in the morning and then proof my and post my poem online in the evening and hope for feedback. 

Write on.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Prompted into Action

Just over a week until the kids go back to school and I have to say I'm looking forward to it. I've just started Wendy Pratt's The Wild Within course and that on top of the University of Iowa's is hard with the kids about. Neither are labour-intensive, but I need small pockets of time to focus on reading texts and to work on my own writing, but that's difficult with my 4 year old. 

We've taken today off after a hot day walking around an island yesterday, but I'm having to tell the little one, 'I just want to finish this reading' before I bake cupcakes or see whatever toy she has this morning. 

Wendy's course started today and it looks like it's going to be a good one for me. She's sending a weekly email, poems to read, ideas to think about and will also be sending out a daily writing prompt to get us started. There's no expectation to produce a poem every day, thank goodness, but just getting into the habit of doing a writing exercise daily will hopefully get me out of my poetry slump. 

I've scribbled four pages of notes on today's prompt, but I'm not focussed enough for a poem, I don't think, but it's nice to start the process again. I like the directions it is taking me, but I'm struggling because part of what I want to write about it in the past and my memory is so bad that I can't sort out details without my old journals, half of which are in a loft in Scotland. So I need to focus on the more recent details. 

I'm getting some work on my most recent novel done as well, connected with the Moving Margins course. I've been working on a section that's been eluding me for a while - the funeral scene of one of my favourite characters. It's been difficult to find a balance of how to describe it, but to also put some weight in it beyond just telling what's happened. I think I know which way to take it now.

To be honest, this week's course selection seems thrown together. The texts and questions and are about setting, but the video lectures are about character. The discussion questions are badly copied and pasted as two are the same and another a section repeated. Disappointing, but if I get this chapter written, I'll forgive them. 

It may seem a strange way to work I'm sure, two screens open - poetry and fiction - and my notebook. Reading stories and emails, watching video lectures while cupcakes go in the oven and Bolognese bubbles on the stove. Things get done, in drips and drabs. My technique won't change once the kids go to school, but there will be more time to focus rather than fitting around their needs

And tomorrow they'll need to get out of the house, so I'm trying to get as much done here as possible today. Of course as soon as I basically finished up for the day, my littlest was happy to play in the bath for an hour and then colour for an hour with little demands for me (except to see and comment on every picture she drew). That's the way things go some days. 

Thursday, 26 July 2018

More on Creative Writing MOOCs

My first week's experience with the University of Iowa's MOOC (massive open online course) Moving the Margins has been an education in itself. I graduated with my final degree 20 years ago. I've attended a few evening courses at local universities and have even taken some simple online creative writing courses where the focus was on feedback for your writing. I'm used to online formats, but the Strathclyde courses I did were much smaller, no more than 12 students probably. Massive is in no way a misnomer here. I can't figure out how many students there are but there are hundreds from all over the world.

A large number of participants can be both a positive and a negative. I had 4 comments right away on my piece when I submitted it  2 days ago, though they are all pretty terse, but nothing since. Some people who submitted early had dozens of comments, but I think I'm late to the games. I've been making sure to respond to people who haven't gotten many comments themselves. No one should be left out. The teaching assistants are not commenting on anyone's submissions which is a shame as that's what a writer really needs when they're learning, feedback on their own work.

You read texts, watch video lectures, answer discussion questions relating to the stories and your own writing. Then you submit your own pieces. I haven't taken time to read everyone's answers to the study questions though I do read a few after I've answered just to see how others are taking to the texts. But there's no real feel of a discussion. A woman asked a question related to one of my comments, so I had a chance to explain myself, but then it was dropped. There's just too many people to really get a meaningful dialogue going.

It feels a bit odd, I have this expectation that because it's part of the University of Iowa's creative writing programme it should be an excellent course and I'll gain lots of insight. But so far, I'm not feeling it. The stories they've chosen to discuss are well-written and interesting in terms of examining for writing style and the theme, of course, but I feel distant, not getting the benefit of discussing it with the teacher or my other classmates. And ultimately to not have the teacher's feedback feels kind of pointless. It's like reading the crib sheets of the UofI course. So I'm not a fan of MOOCs at this stage anyway. 

I'm waiting to see how Wendy Pratt's course works out when it starts next week. There are over 30 participants so far, so will hopefully be more of an intimate, interactive course.

I've been mainly working on my first fiction piece for the UofI course, but I'm submitting a poem to my local writing group this week for feedback. We're meeting in a cafe which isn't as great for reading out our chapters, so I've chosen something short which should work better.

I'm still submitting constantly to magazines, I've had about 46 rejections and 4 accepts from various magazines this year which is about half-way to my goal of 100 rejections. Of course, I'd like to see more accepts. 

Enjoy your week.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Back to Business: Short Online Writing Courses

Two days back home and I have a major case of the 'post-holiday blues' going on and just a bit of jet lag, so I'm struggling to get back into routine. Our holiday was wonderful and I have lots of fodder for new work from it, but how to get started.

As my normal writing group is basically on hiatus over the summer, I have joined two online writing courses that will hopefully kick me back into writing mode, though I still have the kids at home for almost a month yet.

One through the University of Iowa's writing programme is called Moving the Margins: Fiction and Inclusion. It is free and part of their online writing resources and MOOCs (massive open online courses). There are hundreds of participants, so I'm not sure how inclusive it's going to be, but I figured it I would give it a go. I don't write short fiction, so am hoping to focus my writing assignments on new pieces for my novels. It's a shot in the dark, but it sounded interesting. And it had me up at 1am last night, scribbling down an idea I had for one of my novels. So not a bad thing.

I'm also joining a poetry writing course run by poet Wendy Pratt. Starting in August, it uses nature as inspiration and I'm hoping to work on some pieces inspired by our recent visit to the Highlands. She will send out daily writing prompts and five lesson plans, looking at established writers' work. The course only costs £10 which is a bargain considering how much most online courses cost and I'm sure it will be more personal than the UofI course.

And finally, I've also joined an online writing group started by a friend. There's only a few people in it so far and again, they're focusing on short fiction, but it will give me a more immediate reaction to the work I'm writing for the UofI course, so I'm sure it ill be helpful.

We're taking it easy for a few days while we get used to being back home, so I'm trying to squeeze in extra time writing while there's too much screen-time going on, but we'll see how things go when I'm on my own with the kids again. 

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Layering a Poem

I've been working on my crab poem all week, in the morning while the kids are waking up to screens (bad mum, I know). Tinker with a line here, reorder a stanza there. It's amazing how something that happened 30 years ago can inspire some scribbles fifteen years later and can eventually end up as a poem. 

Of course, the poem isn't about crabs. Buying crabs in Norway is just the jumping off point, the 'triggering town' of Richard Hugo's poetry philosphy. Returning to that moment on the beach takes me to another thought about the people I was spending my time with, how we were thrown together as a family, but really weren't one. Because so many years have passed I can look at the moment differently, break it down to see what else was going on.

The imagry I am using takes me to another thought, the artwork of Carolyn Saxby: found images, bits and pieces from beaches, brought together as collages, but also her use of décollage, removing parts of an image or artwork to reveal something new which also lends something to the poem. 

The poem's layers of words, imagry and story are added and taken away to build a remembered moment and the echoes of it across the years. 

If you ignore the 15 years between the first writing practices that gave me the foundation words and images and this week of actually writing it, this was a pretty quick poem for me.

And this will have to be a short blog post from me. My four year old keeps popping her head in to ask if I've finished my writing yet. Spiderman has been off for less than 10 minutes. I've even broken out the chocolate raisins to finish this. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Catlapsed and Numbsweet

This is my last week before all the kids are home all the time from school and summer camps for seven weeks. I should be writing and writing and writing, but we all know it doesn't always work that way. There's still the house to maintain, dinner to sort, a phone call from one camp to check on a child's eye problem and tons of other things that pop up. The hours whisk by. 

I'm finishing my latest poem. I took it to my more laid-back summer edition of my writing group and got some good feedback, especially in terms of boat terminology which I know nothing about, but which help improve the feel of the poem immensely. I really have nothing new in mind to write though which feels odd.

So I've gone back to some old notebooks for inspiration and came across this list of compound words I made up for a writing practice. 

numbsweet     stankstone         
catlapse          saltshine
bootslap          bindsweet
rainheal           bloodnumb
rainclasp         smothershine

So much potential there. I used to play a lot more word games and wrote a lot more stream-of-conscious style practices. Something I should try to get back into. 

I've taken some notes from two unrelated writing exercises I did in 2005 about crabs. Why two exercises focussed on crabs? I don't know, but I'm wondering if I can do something with them. Maybe I'll try and use a word or two from the list above. 

I'm still editing both novels, but very little. I've received more rejections and submitted more poems to magazines. I'll need to set a new routine for me and the kids next week, so will take advantage as much as a I can of the extra time now.