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. 

Enjoy.