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.