Tag: creativity

10 Stages of Writing

That time again.

I glance up at the top right-hand corner of my screen. There, waiting patiently to be pressed, is the button marked Publish…

I say patiently, but that button is very purple. Puce, even, the shade a teacher’s face might turn as you wheel out excuses – each one less credible than the last – as to why you didn’t do your homework.

I won’t bore you with feeble alibis. Instead, below is something I read the other day that offers a little consolation. It helps, after all, to realise that nobody finds it easy. And to produce anything worthwhile, it seems, always takes the writer on ‘an emotional rollercoaster’.

 

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Stage 1: Excitement

“You must not come lightly to the blank page.” ― Stephen King

Stage 2: Uncertainty

“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” ― Jodi Picoult

Stage 3: Persistence

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” ― Octavia E. Butler

Stage 4:  Distraction (AKA: Procrastination)

“If I waited till I felt like writing, I’d never write at all.” ―Anne Tyler

Stage 5: Doubt

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ― Sylvia Plath

Stage 6: Shame

“The first draft of anything is shit.” ―Ernest Hemingway

Stage 7: Fear

“If I wanted perfection, I wouldn’t write a word.” ―Margaret Atwood

Stage 8: Courage

“Creativity takes courage. ” ― Henri Matisse

Stage 9: Relief (AKA: Euphoria)

“Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It’s one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period.” ― Nicholas Sparks

Stage 10: Pride

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” ―Frank Herbert

Harbour Limits

A nchored by our Daily Prompt’s
W hatever,
K nowing rougher seas we’d drift
W herever –
A re we sorry tame and tethered, or safer
R olling out there in the wild blue yonder?
D ecision time. Ripples or waves?

 

Image result for harbour walls

 

Image: nomadlens

Stimulus: WordPress Daily Prompt Awkward

These Fokkers Were Messerschmidts

Don’t know about you but I’m drawn to wild and woolly generalisations. I like how they become entangled with one another, thickets of thought that can’t be pulled apart by pedants.

I adore big ideas that rise far above the petty concerns of everyday life like barrage balloons, defying nit-pickers with their puny pop-guns to shoot them down in flames.

My fondest fantasy is of concepts so compelling that divisions in the body politic fade like old scars to reveal the unbroken skin beneath.

Metaphors, huh? Oh well, below are some ideas about art that I came up with a while back, inspired by the haunting music of Riders On The Storm from The Doors. After each idea I have added another phrase, in italics, something I’ve read and remembered that seems to connect with it.  

What it all amounts to is anyone’s guess but, hey, I get a kick out of putting stuff like this together. And it’s a damn sight easier than, er, actually being creative …

 

hold a mirror up to nature
be true to the earth
intuitions give rise to explanations
first thought best thought
seek unity in diversity
things being various
make new meanings from old ingredients
the proof of the pudding is in the eating
character is choice under pressure
we are what we do
suffering yields insight
what doesn't kill you makes you stronger
enact a better world
beneath the pavement the beach
truth is beautiful fiction
trust the tale not the teller
turn subjectivity into objectivity
forget yourself
create as if life depended on it
when you watch the world carefully


the words take care of themselves


 

After that little lot, there’s no excuse – my next post will have to be a bloody masterpiece!

If you’d like to read my original post, here’s the link:

https://davekingsbury.wordpress.com/2017/10/23/the-art-of-the-possible/

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Image: Free Animated Gifs @ Best Animations

Renaissance Fair

I fervently believe that our natural creativity, given free rein, can unlock all doors and solve all dilemmas no matter how seemingly heavy or intractable. We can start with whatever is to hand which means we are always ready.

So in that spirit I offer this acrostic poem – a response to the Daily Prompt Recreate – to mark the start of a series of posts where I will try to weave the random words that WordPress throws at me into a coherent narrative. Each will be a 100 word story linked in some way to the previous one.

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           E.M Forster

R uins surround you, strongholds returned to rocks.
E ven your wisest words run out like sand.
C ollect those scattered thoughts from the low places.
R eassemble them in new formations to
E ntertain yourself in the long, dark, desolate night.
A t last comes dawn where dreamers meet.
T heatres will play out a thousand and one possibilities.
E verything waits as usual to be imagined into fresh life.

 

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Image: vulture.com

Under Cover

The jocular tone of my previous post masked a deeper unease.

Image result for sad clown

For some reason, I’m finding it increasingly hard to write at any length. It feels as if joining up ideas has become, well, unfashionable. Old hat. Yesterday’s news.

Today it’s all about soundbites, slogans, headlines, jingles, tweets – short stuff that can be repeated over and over until it sounds like something you’ve thought up yourself. It’s rather like being in some great big whispering gallery.

Image result for whispering gallery

As social animals, we are attuned to voices. And our natural instinct is to be loyal to others. When their voices become fragmented, our own inner voices break out in sympathy.

According to The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron, seven inner voices are the enemies of creativity:

  • the procrastinator says later
  • the victim asks why me?
  • the talker dissipates the urge
  • the critic makes us nervous
  • the judge deems the act unworthy
  • the author is obsessed with reception
  • the capricious guest is inspiration

As for me, I’m going to start tomorrow – if the noisy numbskulls around here will let me – and what I write is going to be the life-changing story of absolutely everything unless of course it’s been done many times before by better writers than me, there isn’t something more useful I could be doing and there isn’t a chance in hell anybody might want to read it even supposing that damned elusive muse condescends to pay me a flying visit …

Image result for poetic muse

Oh well, while I’m waiting, perhaps I’ll stick to the short stuff. If you can’t beat ’em join ’em, eh?

Regular readers will know that I’m fond of keeping it short. Acrostic poems, haiku, 100 word stories – all of them over, almost, before they’ve begun!

Blink and you’ll miss them. But I like the idea that you can capture a whole world in a small space. And focussing on technical constraints like word and syllable counts can stop you stressing about content.

How not what.

Them wide open spaces give me the heebie-jeebies. Not enough cover. Too easy for them to pick you off.

Unless, of course, you go by train …

 

The Whitsun Weddings

By Philip Larkin
That Whitsun, I was late getting away:
    Not till about
One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday
Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,
All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense
Of being in a hurry gone. We ran
Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence
The river’s level drifting breadth began,
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.
All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept
    For miles inland,
A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.
Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and
Canals with floatings of industrial froth;
A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped
And rose: and now and then a smell of grass
Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth
Until the next town, new and nondescript,
Approached with acres of dismantled cars.
At first, I didn’t notice what a noise
    The weddings made
Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys
The interest of what’s happening in the shade,
And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls
I took for porters larking with the mails,
And went on reading. Once we started, though,
We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls
In parodies of fashion, heels and veils,
All posed irresolutely, watching us go,
As if out on the end of an event
    Waving goodbye
To something that survived it. Struck, I leant
More promptly out next time, more curiously,
And saw it all again in different terms:
The fathers with broad belts under their suits
And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat;
An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms,
The nylon gloves and jewellery-substitutes,
The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochres that
Marked off the girls unreally from the rest.
    Yes, from cafés
And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed
Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days
Were coming to an end. All down the line
Fresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood round;
The last confetti and advice were thrown,
And, as we moved, each face seemed to define
Just what it saw departing: children frowned
At something dull; fathers had never known
Success so huge and wholly farcical;
    The women shared
The secret like a happy funeral;
While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared
At a religious wounding. Free at last,
And loaded with the sum of all they saw,
We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam.
Now fields were building-plots, and poplars cast
Long shadows over major roads, and for
Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem
Just long enough to settle hats and say
I nearly died,
A dozen marriages got under way.
They watched the landscape, sitting side by side
—An Odeon went past, a cooling tower,
And someone running up to bowl—and none
Thought of the others they would never meet
Or how their lives would all contain this hour.
I thought of London spread out in the sun,
Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat:
There we were aimed. And as we raced across
    Bright knots of rail
Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss
Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail
Travelling coincidence; and what it held
Stood ready to be loosed with all the power
That being changed can give. We slowed again,
And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.

Artful (Part Two)

 

Intention does not make good art.

George Saunders

Good news for those of us who can’t make up our minds … isn’t it? The ultimate slacker, of course, was Sir Francis Drake who – legend has it – greeted news of the Armada’s arrival during a game of bowls by remarking that there was plenty of time to finish the game and still beat the Spaniards. True or not, it’s a cool story! And here’s the blurb to Russell Hoban’s inspiring children’s tale, “How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsman”:

Tom is so good at fooling around that he does little else. His Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong, who thinks this is too much like having fun, calls upon the fearsome Captain Najork and his hired sportsmen to teach him a lesson. So the Captain challenges Tom to three rounds of womble, muck, and sneedball, certain that he will win. However, when it comes to fooling around, Tom doesn’t fool around, and his skills prove so polished that the results of the contest are completely unexpected …

Turns out the puritan work ethic isn’t the sure-fire short-cut to success it always claims to be. Nothing wrong with doing your homework, of course, provided you’re the one who set it. And as anyone who is micro-managed into a stupor will tell you … er, duh?

I enjoy blogging. You can please yourself what to write and each new post is ‘a raid on the inarticulate’ as TS Eliot put it … though not in a post, because he died in 1965! The phrase occurs in his long poem “Four Quartets”, a profound meditation on life and death, where he keeps circling back in frank admission that he has not yet found the right words:

And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion.

Uncanny, don’t you think, how well that describes every would-be post you’ve sent to the trashcan? But something keeps us coming back for more, perhaps the hope that this next one will articulate a wholly new idea never before even half-imagined … ah, dream on, Dave! The cold reality you need to face is that there is nothing new under the sun … but who is this galloping towards us, blowing his cavalry bugle?

No artist tolerates reality.

Franz Kafka

Ha, if Kafka’s brave enough to ride a horse, who are we to wave a white flag? Or stare glumly at a blank page, for that matter … each new post may not grasp the grail but together they may amount to more than the sum of their parts.

Both Eliot and Kafka produced constant variations on just a few themes. This brings to mind a principle of musical construction known as isorhythm, where a fixed rhythmic pattern undergoes a series of melodic transformations throughout the course of a piece. Jazz pianist Geoff Eales, who even calls his band Isorhythm, says: “It’s a marvellous way of achieving unity within variety.” If you have six minutes to spare, here’s a taste of their music:

Hang on, do I spy a figure in flowing robes riding a camel down that sand-dune? Could be John Barth with more support for the aesthetic existence:

Reality is a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.

Let’s stay in the clouds awhile. Whether or not you agree with Walter Pater’s dictum that all art constantly aspires to the condition of music, it’s hard to deny the importance of pattern. What else are new works of art – or new blog posts, for that matter – but variations on a theme? That’s a phrase that could also describe evolution itself and there’s something to be said for the argument that we are no longer evolving physically because cultural change has taken over – ever since we decided body hair was uncool and started wearing animal skins.

Or maybe we just like dressing up. We’ve grown used to the mystery of attire and love playing peekaboo, much as we love words which seem to mean one thing when they also mean another. Our natural survival instinct is to hunt for variations in patterns which might signal advantage or warn of danger. Perhaps this is why I find it so rewarding to work within tight constraints of form – strict verse patterns, regular rhythms, rhyme schemes, limited word lengths and so on. I like the way you can construct a whole world in a small space – a forgotten world, maybe, or a spoof version – or even, perhaps, a better world? And unlike the real world, this one is under your control. William Blake knew the power of imagination:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

Ah, the thrill of the chase!

What do you mean, you can’t spot the connection? If Seamus Heaney can compare his pen with his dad’s spade, please allow me to wear my deerstalker hat when I go on a word hunt … though I am trying to make a serious point here. Words and ideas seem to come more naturally when I’m struggling to make them fit into a tight space. Focusing on the how, perhaps, I’m less self-conscious about the what. How is style, whereas what is substance …

Let me cut back to the chase. Meaning is political and, in a world that’s shrinking fast, you can’t open your mouth without putting your foot in it – or else open your ears without some foul poison seeping in. So easy to feel hopeless, helpless, voiceless. But Scott Fitzgerald, as ever the canary in the mine, came up with this clear note of caution:

Either you think for yourself or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilise and sterilize you.

Or drive you to self-medication, maybe? But we all swim in the same sea these days and perhaps art is our only lifeline.

Art is the link between soundbites. Well, why not? I’m a great admirer of playwright Joe Orton who assembled his hilarious satirical farces much as a visual artist puts together a collage. Each play had one main theme – sex, work, the holiday industry, death, religion and madness all took turns to amuse! – and his preparation was to make lists of possible ingredients which included … Titles/Names … Exclamations and Ripostes … Longer Conversations. Sometimes he had particular characters in mind but much was free-floating and using only the barest plot outlines he cut and pasted wild and unpredictable romps that have barely dated.

I saw a brilliant production of his ‘What The Butler Saw’ – set in a madhouse – only the other week. It was fast and furious, leaving the audience in a state of breathless excitement – torn between wanting to laugh and not wanting to miss the next line.

Whenever actors and directors complained to Joe that lines weren’t funny, he went home and used his lists to come up with new lines. One actor described him as ‘indefatigable’. Orton said that he wanted his lines to be ‘irrefutable’.

Indefatigable and irrefutable! Now there’s an artistic manifesto …

Well, I could carry on like this all night but I need my beauty sleep. The way I usually bring my ramblings to a close is to write on A4 paper and – when I reach the end of the second side – force a conclusion which sums up what I’ve written, often random thoughts and stuff I’ve copied from books or newspapers, before adding an all-encompassing title. It’s good training but useless here, where you can go on and on and on and … on that note, I’ll bid you a fond farewell and leave you with a reminder of what might be at stake if only we could pull our fingers out!

We created the art before we had the society.

Vladimir Tatlin

PS.  If you are the famous boy with your finger in the dyke, please ignore my final exhortation …

Image result for finger in the dyke

 

 

Image: The Daily Player

In cahoots!

Nothing beats the thrill of hitting Publish to send your next carefully-composed post out to cyberspace. You wait on tenterhooks at Mission Control, hoping with crossed fingers that your probe makes connection with its target audience. Success is positive feedback.  Failure is radio silence. Global communication validates us, bestowing an identity we might otherwise lack. It draws us from our little boxes and broadens our horizons. The world turns out to be round, after all!

Readers of my previous posts will know that I hate labels. Putting the human species in pigeonholes isn’t my idea of fun, whether it’s gender or nation or class or race or colour. These are all passive descriptors. You can’t help what you are but you can take responsibility for what you do. And here I’ll break my rule and suggest two active descriptors: we are all either bridge-builders or wall-builders.

Sounds good, don’t it? Actually, it’s rubbish. We’re both. It all depends on the circumstances. Bad times breed walls, good times grow bridges. In the real world at present – and perhaps for the foreseeable future – walls are winning. Yeah, talk to the hand ‘cos the face ain’t listening …

And wall-building isn’t active, of course, it’s passive-aggressive. Building a bridge takes energy, courage, imagination. Above all, it’s an act of faith. It starts with empathy, a belief in the other side which creates the improbable miracle of meeting in the middle. I may be stretching the metaphor to breaking point but when common ground is hard to find, connection must be made in mid-air.

Which brings me to the blogosphere. Sceptics are doubtful about its potential to break down barriers and heal divisions, often dismissing it as ‘preaching to the converted’. Well, yes, bloggers are bridge-builders by definition but we also have real lives and our urge to fly may begin in the cages we have built for ourselves. As the prescient hostess in the Eagles’ Hotel California says, ‘We are all prisoners here/Of our own device’.

In a sadly crowded field my nomination for Most Dangerous Book Ever would have to be ‘1001 Places To See Before You Die’. Do the math, as my American friends would say. Times 1001 by 7 billion to come up with the number of trips. Factor in air miles and you have a recipe for turning the atmosphere into toxic soup. Travel broadens the mind, they say, but jetting around to tick 1001 boxes … each box containing a subset of tourist must-sees … holy relics, just thinking about it triggers my travel-sickness!

A viable alternative is to go to a few places, stay longer and soak up the culture. Comparison is the key to self-discovery in this poem by Philip Larkin:

The Importance of Elsewhere

Lonely in Ireland, since it was not home,
Strangeness made sense. The salt rebuff of speech,
Insisting so on difference, made me welcome:
Once that was recognised, we were in touch.

Their draughty streets, end-on to hills, the faint
Archaic smell of dockland, like a stable,
The herring-hawker’s cry, dwindling, went
To prove me separate, not unworkable.

Living in England has no such excuse:
These are my customs and establishments
It would be much more serious to refuse.
Here no elsewhere underwrites my existence.

Another viable alternative is to travel in cyberspace. That may sound rather nerdy, but bear with me. Every single day 2,000,000 posts like this are sent. Each one is a window on the world, even the ones you can’t be bothered to read.

Two recent attempts at co-writing poems with fellow bloggers were like little holidays from myself. Grappling with several viewpoints took me outside my customary subjective bubble towards something more objective. It was like looking for buried treasure. It felt like a childhood game of Consequences where each person adds a new detail to create a story nobody sees until the end, when the paper concertina unfolds its serendipitous surrealism.

It set me thinking about collaboration. When it works, the whole is mysteriously greater than the sum of its parts. The best live bands sometimes say it’s as if an extra member was up there playing alongside them. Song-writing duos compose songs of magical quality – Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, John/Taupin, Goffin/King, Bacharach/David, Rogers/Hammerstein, Gilbert/Sullivan, the list goes on. Many of the UK’s favourite sit-coms are the product of two brains – Hancock’s Half Hour, Steptoe and Son, Dad’s Army, The Good Life, Fawlty Towers and The Office are just some that spring to mind.

Winning teams have esprit de corps but this doesn’t stop them disagreeing. Healthy argument is essential for success. In relationships opposites attract. The most revealing interviews are those where two people talk freely as equals. The best teachers say they learn as much from their pupils as their pupils learn from them. Hierarchy stifles creativity, although Basil would never admit it …

A question I often ask in the vain hope of a sensible answer runs as follows … Why do CEOs get paid so much for running organisations which are so bad they need people on huge salaries to run them? It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg question, I admit, but why is nobody prepared to answer it?

And don’t get me started on why we need financial speculation! Since when did money become a commodity in its own right and not just a means of exchanging goods and services, huh?

Well, I told you not to get me started! Besides, I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

If I have a religion it’s a belief in the sacred triad of freedom, equality and fellowship. They are interdependent. They underpin human creativity by enabling partnership. Two minds are better than one. We do better to build bridges rather than walls.

If my religion has demons, they are rapacious consumerism and rampant fundamentalism. On the face of it, however, these couldn’t be more different: material and immaterial, natural and supernatural, here and elsewhere.

Yet both of them are heretics in my religion, if I have a religion. Both of them deny that we live in the spaces between one another and that souls is just a fancy word for relationships. Both of them say, Look after Number One and Devil take the Hindmost. Their crazed obsession with individual success and personal salvation are the twin scourges of our modern age, fuelling egoism and undermining a full engagement with the world. They make our heaven a living hell.

Two final questions: 

  1.  Can the blogosphere save the biosphere?
  2.  Does anyone know the title and/or author of a short story about a space rocket which makes an emergency landing on a planet because of a failed engine?  The other parts of the ship locate a new engine which turns out to be an inhabitant of the planet. They kidnap him and he learns about his real destiny, which is to power the ship. The story is clearly an allegory about teamwork – right up my street, as you can imagine! – and I would dance with delight if I found it again.