Supper’s Ready

After I failed to get a residency at the local arts collective in March, the idea I’d wanted to work on became End of the Fear. That is the gift that keeps on giving, and it has taught me the value of not assuming that success equals a book deal or a winning submission. Success is not about what other people consider as worthy, it’s your happiness above everything else.

However, my submission did get me noticed enough to win a meeting with the head of the Southend facility (is that the right word, I wonder… hub, perhaps? Community centre?) and a promise I could appear as part of their ‘Future Park’ events: three minutes to sell yourself to the audience, using anything you want as content. In my case, I picked a poem written in January which remains the strongest piece I’ve written all year, ironically submitted for a major prize last week.

That means there will eventually be some pictures of the evening. For now, I am reminded that although using Social media has its own pitfalls, if I wanna be seen in the world, this is the way to do it. With Inktober coming up, there’s a strong temptation to do haiku again, because that was huge fun and I’ve come a long way in two years. My home town is an amazing backdrop for so many things, after all…

There’s a lot to consider on the back of this performance, and next week is an important deadline for a collection I’ve been playing with for over a year now. Today, however, is taking things easy. The stress and adrenaline are still very much in evidence, and so that means no exercise as well as no worrying over what happens next. For now, I celebrate what’s been achieved this year, and what might yet be to come.

You May Be Right

This weekend, I learnt about Casuistry:

Casuistry (/ˈkæzjuɪstri/) is a process of reasoning that seeks to resolve moral problems by extracting or extending theoretical rules from a particular case, and reapplying those rules to new instances.

Wikipedia

Why the sudden interest? Well, it’s all the fault of a podcast my husband likes listening to, with a realisation that religion isn’t as black and white as perhaps I’ve always assumed was the case.

Learning how to think differently is undoubtedly the best thing that ever happened in my life this year. It isn’t just objectivity that’s improved in this time, but the ability to look at situations in a sympathetic manner: effectively, being less harsh on myself in the process. My personal approach to problem-solving, it transpires, is not far from that of the Jesuits. Knowing this method has a name is, frankly, a bit of a revelation.

It’s also not an exact solution:

Casuistry is a method of case reasoning especially useful in treating cases that involve moral dilemmas. It is a branch of applied ethics. It is also criticised for the use of inconsistent—or outright specious—application of rule to instance.

That needs a wee bit more definition before we go on:

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As became apparent in the Podcast above, and the next one in the series (which talks about contraception and the invention of the Pill) you can solve problems in any number of ways: what one person considers morally wrong may be the polar opposite to what somebody else would consider as problematic. Experience is the key to how we all look at solutions: the wider a world view, the more likely is that decisions are made based on optimal criteria.

It’s why the predisposition of so many people to live in their own bubbles is a growing concern: it is life experience that allows a person the opportunity to give reasoned, responsible input and therefore make decisions based on the most diverse set of perceived situations. I’ve often been accused of overthinking my approach to life in the past, and those people are right. To strike the right balance is a incredibly tough ask sometimes.

So, what has all this got to do with writing?

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When I was being interviewed on BBC 5Live about Places of Poetry, there was some discussion over how emotional poetry ought to be in reference to the subject matters in hand. Learning how to write objectively, especially when it comes to a form where economy of words can make a real difference, allows you the ability to problem solve a lot of situations where emotion must exist but not overwhelm.

It is the different between an impassioned feeling and a full-on rant: subtlety and clever word use will allow you to create vastly different solutions to the same problem. That’s also true in longer-form work: two protagonists are talking about a deeply personal event, that one feels uncomfortable about. How does one create a feeling of empathy between them? Is that even required with these two characters… how do their own moral compasses deal with casuistry within the framework of your narrative?

To understand your words, you must begin to understand yourself.

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Part of the reason why my fiction has suffered so much over the years undoubtedly has to do with being unable to really give emotional depth to situations and characters. I thought that this would be easily remedied but, it transpires, there is a lot of work to do. Helping myself expand as a writer isn’t just understanding tenses or the importance of narrative flow. There needs to be a more spiritual, philosophical element to proceedings too.

The best writing is that which is compelling and ultimately life changing, and to do that one must be prepared to alter parts of our own being in the process.

The Bends

Not gonna lie, I didn’t sleep much on Friday to Saturday. It always takes a night to adjust to strange surroundings. That’s not just me either, it’s a deep-seated genetic quirk. We’re all mammals, expecting the first night in an unfamiliar habitat to result in us being eaten by a predator. In my case, it was ants, but there weren’t many of them, and we came to an arrangement. I blocked the crack they were swarming from, we existed in harmony.

Saturday was the first proper bit of work for me: two lectures, two 1-2-1 sessions, and a lot of hanging about in the College building. That’s how I met Ezzie for the first time, and Shona, and finally worked out who Bridget was from Twitter. Suddenly there’s a whole new bunch of people to talk to, and situations to deal with. This is where there also needs to be a moment of honesty: not everybody wanted to be my friend. In one case, I tried talking to someone, before they very smartly and efficiently shut me out.

Once upon a time, that rejection would have been perceived as my fault. Now, I am smart enough to know that sometimes, however hard you try, certain people aren’t willing to give. In such circumstances I would have previously run away, licking my wounds. This time, I politely excused myself and moved on. The fact that’s possible now is probably one of the most significant personal takeaways from the entire weekend. You make the opportunities happen, and if they don’t work, you learn to adapt and not dwell.

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#365daychallenge Meanwhile, in a talk..

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I owe a massive debt of thanks to both Jane Rogers and Stephanie Butland for two sessions on short stories and plot choice that were significantly transformative in terms of how I view my own work. It’s been apparent for some time what was required in my prose was a sense of basic structural understanding, and both of these woman gave me not only what I wanted, but also what I’d not realised was needed.

More importantly, meeting Stephanie later and Hayley Steed for 1-2-1’s gave my novel idea a level of legitimacy that didn’t previously exist. This wasn’t a trip to be validated as a writer, or to try and sell my finished work, we’re not even at that stage yet. What it presented was the means by which to identify the shortcomings in my style (‘sort those tenses out’ said Hayley and BOY is she right) before going away and starting the writing task.

It’s Stephanie however who I feel deserves an extra, written thank you in public. Giving a piece of yourself to strangers can alter them profoundly, and she has ❤

Events like this undoubtedly are a sum of their parts: if you put loads in, then there’s an equal amount allowed to be taken away. In that regard, I am hugely indebted to those whose names I never got, or have forgotten, who would be happy to engage in conversation simply whilst I passed from one place to another. For those like Gail, Jane, Patricia, Jackie and Martine who took the time to pass on contact details… I’ll get there with establishing communication. It’s just going to take me a while…

By the end of the evening, I’d read poetry at the Open Mic (and inadvertently ended up running it for an hour) whilst editing the same three pieces performed in the process. There was an amazing and solid hug from Debbie Taylor that I will remember for many, many years to come and an emerging realisation that for the first time I have become arbiter of my own written destiny. If it’s going to happen, this is the time, and nobody gets to take that ownership away from me.

I was up writing poetry until 2am. It was beyond glorious.

Enough is Enough

No, really, I need to ask the question: just how much effort into a piece is ‘enough’?

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To my right, in a pile, is a bunch of poems being edited. When I was writing End of the Fear and only my own standards needed to be fulfilled, editing seemed considerably less stressful. Was that because of the work being easier to create, or the process not being dictated by what other people would think, I wonder? Is there too much general worry over the end quality of my output?

More and more, the answer to this question is YES.

I’ve read pages of advice over how to make my work shine, on the inner voice that needs to be nurtured, on umpteen differing styles and approaches, and yet none of this is able to assuage that creeping, terrifying sense that however had you edit, it simply won’t be enough. Impostor Syndrome’s in an increasing list of external factors that weigh down my output, and needs to be dealt with alongside everything else.

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Releasing myself from the tyranny of validation certainly helps make the poetry flow, but then how much editing is enough to produce something I think is worthwhile? It’s the classic ‘how long is a piece of string’ argument, I suppose: if I was being taught and the teacher covered my work in corrections, would that be what was needed? If the voice is strong enough, and there’s enough confidence in the finished product, that should be enough.

Increasingly however, as stuff is rejected, that’s not the case. You’re forced into a situation where there is no real sense of what is right or wrong, and you have to hope that what is on the page is enough. If you’re not writing in the style a random person decides is what they’re looking for, what can you do? In the end, there is very little to do but just keep working and hoping that eventually your style will intersect with someone else’s interest.

Unless of course there’s some magic that I’m missing along the way…

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I’ll be back to poetry next week: for now, it’s time to start gearing up for my trip to Leeds…

Words

Sitting here, catching up on the last week or so, finishing the poetry project seems a lifetime ago.

My health club was presented with an A3 poster of the Blaze poem on Tuesday, and A4 copies went to everyone who featured in the poem at their relevant classes (as there are two a week.) There were unexpected tears, and genuine pleasure that I could thank so many people for inspiring me to greatness. Then, on Thursday, I bumped into the woman who was responsible for a significant change in direction of my narrative.

I’ll spend some time next week taking all the pictures produced for the project and shoving them in a Portfolio, allowing everything photographic to be accessible from the website. It’s been lovely to get unprompted, independent feedback too, especially as I ended up being featured on the PoP Facebook site as a ‘Poem of the Day.’

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The plan has been to have a rest, and having done so, to start July fresh and with some new ideas… so I suppose I’d better get started on that sooner rather than later. I’ll be honest, however: there’s not going to be weekly poetry again until probably September. I need a rest, but more significantly, it’s become apparent from this project that my style has begun to evolve.

This is probably the moment to go practice on my own for a while, enter some works in specific contests, then see what happens as a result.

The Final Countdown

It’s done… well, the technical bit is. All the poems are pinned on the site, I just need to do my part of the deal and fill in the back end details. As of typing this, all but five of those poems are now up and linked with pictures. By Wednesday, as planned, we will be done.

Revelations have risen from this journey that have been singularly unexpected. The reactions I’ve received, support that has been offered beyond considerable. It started as a means by which I could give back to the town, but so much has been given back without even asking. I’ll be printing out a version of the Jazz poem for the lovely people at the Centre who were so kind to me, and one for the member of staff at the Beecroft Gallery who changes my outlook so early on.

These people’s generosity has been the unexpected and brilliant bonus to this five week’s worth of work. Once I’m done, there will be time taken to consider what I’ve learnt, ensuring it all gets use down the line. This is truly the project that’s really altered not only my outlook on poetry, but on how I have become a better person thanks to the ability to shave away small slivers of my soul before binding them to moments captured photographically.

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Everything has come together perfectly, and I could not be happier.

Find Time

It is high time for an update on the Project Du Jour, I feel.

The first poetry has already been pinned on the Places of Poetry site.

Watching poems appear on their site has been possibly the most satisfied I have ever felt about anything ever made. Public access projects are a rarity in the modern world: you’re not making any money, after all, so what’s the point in taking part? For me, it is exactly that which made this project so appealing. Nobody else gets to judge my work, it is simply accepted on merit regardless, will exist virtually as testament to my town.

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That allows a freedom of expression that is often lacking in other places: no need to write ‘a certain way’ or to conform to a particular (or popular) poetic style. My voice is allowed unhindered freedom of expression, and that in it self is a joyous, liberating experience. It means being able to express feelings that previously had no way of effectively releasing themselves from my brain.

If I’m totally honest with myself, that’s the best part of all about this entire project.

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I am still on target for a Wednesday finish: all poems will be ‘pinned’ by Monday night, and then it’s just up to me to do the back-end work as a follow up. After that, you can absolutely bet there will be a celebratory glass of summat raised at a project that’s fundamentally altered my relationship with poetry for good.