From the archive: The Body In The Woods (Part 2)

That night, I didn’t sleep. A strange insect bit me. It itched like hell.

I scratched and scratched at it, obsessed by visions of poison seeping though my body. I reverted to biting my nails, an old childhood habit. I listened to the wild words rumbling in my head, like the variety of animal sounds outside the tent. I tried to differentiate between them. What was worth putting on the page?

I tried to write, but the fears were quite clearly restricting my words on the page.

I thought the wild words that night should be about my pained experience of being in the woods, but instead I found that I was writing an uninteresting summary. I was focusing on the more comfortable aspects of the story, like my preparation for the expedition, rather than risk getting too deep into descriptions of body sensations, or my fears. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to dream about those beautiful prowling wild words. Instead my mind always returned to its antithesis, the caged words, still trapped in his cage. In my half-awake, half-asleep state, I thought I heard the wild words, mewing plaintively, somewhere far away.

By daylight, my mind was worn out. My thoughts were tired, and seemed to be drifting into sleep, even if the rest of me wasn’t. I crawled out of the tent and stood in the cold. The fog had frosted around the trees, mummifying them overnight. I was a failure, I’d written nothing of worth.

I felt the reaction in my body, almost before I heard the sound that had caused it. It was like someone had put a large fist round my guts and squeezed them. The noise came from somewhere in the back of my mind, a scrubby, dark place, and it was, indeed, soft, mewing words. Words were coming, unbidden. Wild Words.

I moved towards them before I thought about it. I took my notepad out. But just as I began to write, the ideas evaporated away. Somewhere in my mind there was now a circular space where the vegetation had been flattened. It was a similar effect to when your pet cat lies in your Azaleas, but the imprint was much bigger. Steam was rising into the air. I felt the warmth. The words were no longer there, but had been there so recently that I thought I could still see their breath moving the grass of my thoughts.

I had almost got those wild words on to the page. It had been a near miss and I no longer felt like a failure. I realised that however hard it had been, I had stayed in that place, with my feelings and my notebook, all night. I hadn’t run away.  Despite the fact I hadn’t written wild words that night, I had got much closer. The next time, I felt sure, I would harness them on the page.

The Weekly Prompt: Taking Body Sensations Into Fiction

Take the body sensations on which you based your writing for last week (for Part 1 of The Body In The Woods) and write a fictional poem or story of up to 1000 words. None of the facts need to be the same as you experienced in that exercise, although they might be. Only the physical, bodily sensations must remain the same.

This article was first published on 29th June 2013



A Training Guide For Writing Wild

A student told me the other day that the thought of going outdoors to write terrified her.

In response to our conversation, I jotted down a few ideas which I hope will support you to just get out there. Take them with a pinch of salt  :-) 

-If the computer or television is more familiar to you than the world outside your front door, acclimatise slowly.

Start by venturing out into your garden (assuming you have one), then take on your local park. After that you should feel confident to go further…

-Get familiar with darkness.

Try lying in a dark room for twenty minutes, without falling asleep. You could also put on a blindfold, and feel your way around a room, or garden. Notice how the senses other than sight will come to your aid. See that your fears are bigger then the reality.

-Practice with texture under your feet and hands.

Exchange carpets and varnished floorboards for barefoot scurrying across your pebbled drive.  Swap flat white walls for touching brick and stone. Touch plants (carefully) that you usually consider too spiky.

-Consider going ‘off-line’.

Leaving the phone and Wi Fi behind is the new trend, have you heard? To really go into the unknown means to rely on your own resources, rather than those of your mother/partner/friend/therapist at the other end of the line. Face the reality that where you’re going there may not be a phone signal anyway. To prepare for this, turn your phone off for ten minutes, and see how it feels. Then progress to twenty minutes. Go up incrementally from there. When you can do three hours -the length of the writing of the first draft of your epic poem- you’re ready.

-Decide where to go.

You want to go into unknown territory. It will give you the sharpness of attention that’s conducive to vivid writing. But you don’t want to go anywhere that will frighten you too much, or where you place yourself in danger. A scared writer just freezes up, that is not creative.

-Make your destination information available on a need-to-know basis only. 

Threaten teenagers with loss of privileges if they contact or come looking for you in anything other than a REAL emergency (borrowing money/the car, trips to the supermarket for Nuttela etc… are not classed as real emergencies).

Finally. Remember. You deserve some time for you. Take it. Without apologies or excuses.


The Weekly Prompt

Put the six encouragements above into action :-)