Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Feel the fear ....and write it anyway

by Sheilagh Dyson

‘Just write. Whatever comes into your head. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence construction. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make any sense. Just write and keep writing for three minutes. Don’t think too much about what you’re writing, just keep writing.’ Thus began my writing ‘career’ last September. I would never have started writing without the prompt of this writing exercise in my first Creative Writing class at college.

I confess that, of the three elements of the course I’m studying, only Creative Writing held any terrors for me. Language? Well, I can read, write and spell, so what could possibly be a problem? (How wrong can you be?) Literature? I’ve read loads of books, so should be all right at that! (Wrong again!)  Creative Writing? Uncharted territory - didn’t know where to begin. So the exercise above was where it began for me and it was the most liberating thing because, on that day, I found that I could write and be pleased with what I had written, even as I look back on it now.

Like many people, I’m a terrible prevaricator. There’s nothing I will do today, if I can put it off until tomorrow or next week or, preferably, three weeks on Tuesday. I’m also dogged by the internal and entirely self-inflicted pressure of being a perfectionist. I daren’t start anything until I’m convinced that it will be perfect – an attitude obviously doomed to failure. The combination of these states of mind militate and conspire against starting anything, particularly writing. Both provide excuses for not writing. So for someone like me, writing exercises are extremely beneficial, indeed essential, in giving me the kick start that I so sorely need.

Emboldened by this experience, my next foray was a trip to Queen Street library, shortly after the course began, to join a Diversions writing workshop I saw publicised in the Gazette. Believe me, I forced myself to go to that one, as I didn’t know what to expect at all. I found myself in the company of experienced writers, members of a writing circle, students studying for the MA in creative writing – people who knew what they were doing! I did consider running off, but decided to save face and have a go. The theme was Blackpool and we were given numerous old photographs, programmes, brochures from the past. We were then asked to choose one that inspired us and write a short piece. Once again, given the bare bones of an idea, I found I could write and moreover, read out what I had written to total strangers. Progress was being made.

Several months later and after numerous writing and poetry exercises in the intervening period I now find myself writing obsessively, editing, re-working, agonising – and all of this, I have learned,  is because I forced myself  to write something in the first place, to despoil that blank sheet of paper. Not with a perfect finished piece all in one go, but with something to work on (and anything is better than nothing), something to enjoy changing and playing with, as new ideas occur and better words leap out of the memory. Nothing goes to waste – all jottings, scribbles, unfinished poems, germs of ideas that haven’t yet been realised – all are kept for future development or for putting together with other, seemingly incongruous snippets, that together can grow into something worthwhile.

After shaky beginnings, I’m starting to sound like a writing zealot, a crusader for the written word, an evangelical wordsmith. I’m not, but I am someone who has been a late developer in this area and am keen to make up for lost time!

I’ll finish with a poem that emerged from a poetry exercise, facilitated by Colette Bryce for the Guardian. The suggested theme was ‘Names’ and this is Maria Taylor’s offering, which made me smile.

Felling a Maiden by Maria Taylor (Maria Dimitri Orthodoxou, as was)

And what did I bring to the altar?
A dowry sack of vowels, a grinding toothache
of consonants. In a few inky moments
I would no longer be foreign or hard to spell.

She was not from round here, she was torn
from fig and oleander, eucalyptus and sea,
though she didn't speak with a faraway voice,
or make lace with her grandmother's needle.

She refused the double-barreled shot
at a new life (the initials would be MOT);
So I was cruel and I was kind
and found an attic for her to slip away.

Becoming a Taylor of the everyday sort,
climbing up the stairwell, saying 'goodnight.'


Ashley R Lister said...

Every week I set writing exercises for students.

And every week I seem to forget how scary these can be. Thanks for reminding me that they can also be liberating.