Thursday, December 10, 2015

Writing Diary II


This is an experiment. It is almost certain to fail. I am actually wondering whether it’s a good idea at all. I’m also wondering whether I should, instead of this (the prompts are already generated) - show the process from cold and empty, that is, including the generation of prompts.

The trouble with trying to show you prompt-generation (and the generation of a flash or poem) is that merely talking about it, pausing, becoming aware, alters the whole thing. Obviously, “writing drunk”, letting go, trusting the unconscious processes, doesn’t really go with logging the process at the same time. But we’ll see how it goes.

First, here are the prompts. Every day I generate a set of prompts. It used to be ten or twelve or two dozen but now it’s exactly 25, every single time. Ask yourself why. Not everything is given to you.

Psycho-analysts know that routine, repeatability, shape, process is all part of the design. If you, dear reader, were to decide in 2016 that you would rise every day at (say) 05:30, or maybe 05:25 allowing you to make coffee, and if you knew that 25 prompts were ready for you (because you generated them last night) and if you knew you weren’t going to switch on the TV or listen to the radio OR GO ANYWHERE NEAR THE DAMN INTERNET until your story was drafted… if you did that every day “without fail” the very actions, the habit, the repetitions, would shape your morning personality, your writerliness.

Here are the prompts. Note there are 25 and note too that I have posted more than 3,000 this year (not enough).

3076 It is the drunkenness of love that I desire
3077 I apologise, but yes I am American
3078 We will continue from a newer base
3079 My wife, her lover, and my mistress are drinking tea
3080 I can explain away rainbows. They are straightforward

3081 The sea surrounds, the sky is wide and white
3082 In the morning you will be alive and full of futures
3083 The women are digging
3084 There are many here, dressed in starched white
3085 Street after street, house by house.

3086 I did not know it but my paper was not waterproof
3087 It is odourless, tasteless, and cheap
3088 Life has squeezed you in, your rooms are smaller now
3089 From a window in Montmartre, The Blues Brothers
3090 We carry on, we carry on.

3091 It is slow, but I am slowly letting you go
3092 I have not practised dying
3093 When I am older, do not imagine I am weak
3094 This is my fortieth year, slightly longer than others
3095 Tell me I am brave. It is OK to lie

3096 I am followed by the shadow of my father
3097 We lie together, counting stars
3098 I prefer downhill, and the wind at my back 
3099 The dog knows when you are with your lover
3100 Sure, these woods, sure

I will discuss “where prompts come from” in due course, but I have settled on this 25 prompts routine, five blocks of five, as I’ve found it works. It works for me. It works for the people who use them. Later, maybe not in this posting, I’ll talk about how the prompts can be used. I may (if I can remember, discuss how these twenty-five were generated.

In another post soon, I will generate 25 prompts and keep a note of the generation. The problem twitch that is that this act will possibly mean the twenty-five will be junk, because I will be left-brained and mechanical instead of “reacting with the semi-unconscious”.

But here goes anyway. Please remember that what I am now doing is (a) artificial (b) interfering with the amazing process itself. BTW (c) I haven’t done today’s flash yet. Bummer.

I have a lot of poetry books. Consider that fact. 

Every poetry book means a lot of poetry, (obviously) and a lot of poets (no biggie) but every line we read in every poem is NOT truly new. It may well be that this line, this sequence of 5-10-15 words has never been -precisely - written that way before, but that doesn’t mean the words have never been uttered before or these sentiments explored.

I’m a terrible “reader-of-poetry”. 

I discount or dismiss literally thousands of poems, thinking “Huh?” or “Well, that was shit…” 

For the most part, I don’t “get” poetry… (yet I have won three poetry competitions…)

I still haven’t got to the bottom of this abject weakness in me. Once I would have said the same about short-stories. I have blind-spots. I really don’t like or get Magic Realism (but then people say I’ve written some) and I’m not crazy about Joyce or Borges or Barthelme and there are dozens of short-story writers who I’m told are great but leave me cold.

But, think on this. Pick any poet (even one you can’t fall into). Joyce will have read Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, hundreds or thousands of other poets. He becomes them, he is sprinkled with their dust, and every writer who ever reads a single line of poetry or a single story is sprinkled second-third-fourth and five-hundred-and-fourth-hand. It is impossible to learn to speak, and to eventually write without being affected by Shakespeare, by Chaucer and so on. The air is full of them and full of whomsoever came before them. You don’t have to have heard of Beowulf to accidentally drop the tiniest nod to the story, because Beowulf or Henry V or The Canterbury Tales has subtly impregnated a million writers, and when you read those newer, maybe less-great writers, you rede Olde Englishe and the Bard.

So, when I pick up an anthology of poems I am sniffing greatness.
This block of prompts came partly from my head “spontaneously” and also from an anthology edited by Billy Collins and a favourite of mine, “Staying Alive” edited by Neil Astley.

(There are three or four of these excellent Bloodaxe “Alive” collections. Being/Staying Alive; Being Human, and there’s a lovely little “best-of” from all these.)

Note I might pretend to be erudite and a deep, avid reader of poetry, but I’m full of shit. I only “get” about one in twenty (really) but I don’t seek out the poem, I seek the kernel of an idea, the two-three notes, the colour or the feel or “the way I am tilted”.

Seriously, you know the way a great Professor of Poetry could walk you through a poem? Mate, I wouldn’t have a fucking clue. Occasionally I “feel something” but despite stumbling into a rare published poem of my own or even more bizarrely winning a comp, I really, really, REALLY do not get poetry.

But that doesn’t mean poetry can’t get me, even if I say no and mean it.

I look at these, right now, and I’m immediately struck by the annoying fact (Sod’s Law) that almost none are directly from or sponsored by or derived from lines in these books.

I should say BTW (and this is important) I NEVER start generating at prompt one, then two, then three, through to twenty-five. If I did that the sequence would contain part of my thinking. There might be a logical thread, a trend, some connectivity. Instead I randomly fill in the twenty-five “slots” and occasionally will move one if it seems obvious that two phrases in consequence will obviously “go together”.

What I seek is lots of “spikes”, “clues”, “idea-generators”. We could call them, um, prompts. (Good idea, Alex).

So the next bit (here) is where did this lot come from (and as i said, I have a nasty feeling that the next bit is going to be a bit shit.)

It is the drunkenness of love that I desire.

Don’t know, but this would actually have been generated about prompt 20/21. I avoid filling in the beginning or the end too early as I don’t want my early thought s to affect or “shape” what is coming. I started looking  at Collin’s “180 More” I remember that, but this line? I think it just came - actually no, it would have come when I was reading “Staying Alive” because I switched to that when 180 seemed not to be working. But, realise that It is the drunkenness of love that I desire came from the act of reading two anthologies, from that day’s Facebook, from the news in my ear over the day, etc etc etc

I apologise, but yes I am American.

We had been talking guns, Syria, Jihadis, on FB and in particular I had remarked that we had two “nutter” incidents this week (in the UK) but the assailant’s had only had knives, not automatic weapons…

So, spontaneously (from the day, but also because of something in a poem) I came out with that line.

We will continue from a newer base.

Again, I do not have a clue, but often, when I generate a prompt I like it to be what I call a “realophore” - a phrase that can work literally while at the same time be a metaphor or be dual-meaninged or ambiguous.

My wife, her lover, and my mistress are drinking tea

That was partly prompted by a line somewhere (I think) but the line did not have any of these words. (I said this was going to be shitty). 

But remember that when you use this prompt, maybe exactly, maybe bastardised, maybe as a title: My Wife, My Lover, Taking Tea. (If you can’t get a story from that title go outside and shoot yourself.)

I can explain away rainbows. They are straightforward.

Ah, this I know. Years ago I wrote a story (as yet unpublished) called The Science of Rainbows and while the rainbow is being “explained away” it just gets to sound more and more God-like. Just reading lots of lines of poetry (not, BTW, the whole poems), suddenly out popped this. So here’s an example of the shadow of our DNA… I read God knows what (years ago) produced a story (years ago) then scribble a line (a day ago) that might make YOU write the definitive rainbow story. And like it or not there will be a faint whiff of Keegan’s armpit somewhere.

Oh, Oh. Prompt 25, that was Robert Frost Stopping by Woods.

The sea surrounds, the sky is wide and white

This was prompted by some scenery poem. The words are mine.

In the morning you will be alive and full of futures

This was from a poem that mentioned waking up. I added “full of futures”. I had no idea why, but writing this I remember Ballistics.

Look up, think of futures.

and At a Stroke.

At school, he waits, a glorious sunny day, until the children begin to exit, boys in grey with red tops and white shirts, and girls like his, full of futures, dressed in red and white gingham check.

The women are digging

Can’t remember, but it is a prompt prompted by…

There are many here, dressed in starched white

I read a line about nurses, doctors, and…
Street after street, house by house.

For some reason I thought of the Winston Churchill speech and fighting on the beaches etc. This popped out and needed to be reasonably far away from its daddy.

I did not know it but my paper was not waterproof

that just popped out.

“It is odourless, tasteless, and cheap

I was thinking of ARSENIC. It used to be a very common method of murder and I think my great grand-father may have murdered or been complicit in the murder of, his mistress’s husband.

Now here is an example of the process now “going wrong”. The prompt as-given, comes from a cold, clinical, left-brained remembrance of what may have been a murder; comes from a bit of research on arsenic etc etc. But what you would have got, ONLY got, would have been, 

“It is odourless, tasteless, and cheap”

and from THAT, hopefully, would have risen up “unconsciously” ideas of murder, maybe even arsenic itself. This is a classic example of why right-brained writing, the unconscious at work, can produce much better stuff. In this case now, we are all aware and would be likely to write the same boring stuff.

Life has squeezed you in, your rooms are smaller now

The first part was driven by part of a line, the addition was me thinking of pigs squeezed into tiny cages, never ever to walk in a field. (I’m trying to go veggie.)

But note again, how it is more metaphorical. Also note that I usually try to make prompts “ring” they often have a nice “flow”.

From a window in Montmartre, The Blues Brothers

I know this. Don’t know why I remembered it. I was with the woman who I thought was the love of my life. We were in Montmarte, Paris, not far from The Sacre Coeur. She went off to the ladies and I leaned against a  wall taking in the sun listening to The Blues Brothers being played at 10,000 decibels through an upstairs window. A guy came to the window, maybe Algerian, probably Muslim, saw me enjoying the BBs and we “shared a moment” I will probably think about that moment as I’m dying.

You will write about some such feeling some time in the next year and think the idea came from nowhere. We share. We stand on the shoulders of greatness (and midgets).

Note, too, the line is not too specific.

We carry on, we carry on.

Dunno, but wanted a perseverance prompt.

It is slow, but I am letting you go

There was something in some poem about “If you love her set her free” (that kind of bollocks) and I came to this.

I have not practised dying

Just a joke, yet it feels full of “meaning”

When I am older, do not imagine I am weak

I don’t know, but in 180 there’s a poem that begins:

When old, do not let me bark at passers-by

This is my fortieth year, slightly longer than others

Spontaneous, I think, but yesterday I wrote a story called The Time machine where the husband ends up 21 and his wife is now 77.

Tell me I am brave. It is OK to lie
I am followed by the shadow of my father
We lie together, counting stars
I prefer downhill, and the wind at my back 

All four were “spontaneous” (except we know they are not). They came while reading poetry.

The dog knows when you are with your lover

I read the dog line (see above) was thinking about the wife-mistress line and suddenly had the idea of a man’s dog mewling whenever the wife was (far away) with her lover. And a story I wrote two days ago had the line: 

but if she talks in her sleep it is only of lovers, in English.

It all connects. We cannot escape!

Sure, these woods, sure (Frost).

It is 08:05 and I still haven’t written my first flash of the day. Now I am supposed to look at these 25 prompts, “use my sub-conscious” and write 750 words.

Yeah, right.

08:05 2 Hours 20 Minutes, 3,765 Words

That is 1,614 words an hour.

As I have said, 2,700 words a day is a million a year. I suspect today will be at least 5,400 words. And now it’s 08:08 time to feed the dogs.

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