A Writing Ritual: Allison Symes

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Highlights are important. I can paper walls of my house with rejection slips. 

It has taken me years to find my voice.  I started having acceptances when I didn’t try to fit my quirky fiction into boxes it didn’t want to go into to try to get published. It was finding a publisher that took quirky fiction which led to my breakthrough but I needed to adjust my mindset first. Another help has been accepting I am “in” writing for the long haul and knowing everyone has rejections.

There are days when the words don’t flow as nicely as I’d wish. I call it being human (!) but if I’m stuck on fiction, I switch to blogging.  If I’m stuck on a blog post, I switch to fiction. Usually the issue that has bugged me is resolved as I write about something else.  I found this annoying at first.  You just get into a piece of writing and then ideas for something else turn up.  These days I have a notebook ready!

My writing ritual starts with writing a Facebook post for my author page and/or book page.  I then work on my current CFT post.  I write by “session” divided into segments.  I finish my writing session with fiction as I find not having to stick to facts liberating!

I’m in transition as there is a lot of writing I’d like to do and I need more time so I am planning to become as full time a writer as possible.  Until recently I’ve thought of myself as a part time writer.  Not anymore!  I’m a writer, full stop. I am working out which rituals to retain and which to drop or change.  It will be an interesting process.

I specialise in 100-word-tales, which are on-line at Cafelit.  In 2017 my first collection, From Light to Dark and Back Again, was published by indie press, Chapeltown Books.  This is easily the highest point of my writing life.  I now have an author page on Cafelit (another lovely highlight).

http://cafelit.co.uk/index.php/meet-our-authors/2-uncategorised/99-allison-symes

http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/author/allison-symes/

 

A Storyteller's Process: Cathy Fagg

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Running and story-telling; two sisters in the same body, playing and fighting, cuddling and sulking, sometimes let out, sometimes told to keep quiet for the sake of the grown-up work-a-day world.

As a child, running and story-telling were as easy as breathing. I grew up in Kenilworth and in the long summer days I would play with my flesh-and-blood sisters in Crackley Woods, Abbey Fields and Kenilworth Castle, creating elaborate fantasies of knights and maidens, boarding schools and desert islands, battlefields and homes. Sometimes we would take these adventures into the adult world, acting out little plays and ballets to captive audiences.

Movement was story, story was movement. 

As I learnt to read and write story-telling became an exercise, submitted to a teacher for marking. Running was confined to sports fields and occasional cross-country routes. Now a teenager, it was uncool to sweat. To avoid bullying I learnt to speak with hate of what I loved. At home I took the dog for long walks; out of sight in the woods, running was our sneaky treat. On the way home I told her stories of everything that mattered to me.

Keats broke through my cool: his nightingale call bewitched me. Shakespeare crept up on me, disguised as O and A level set texts; Macbeth and Lear ploughed up my mind. The Oxbridge entrance exam concealed the wicked delights of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. I dared not tell such tales; I began to believe that story-telling, like running, was what other, greater, people did. Studying English Literature under the faded aegis of Leavis taught me to critique but not to create.

I told stories again in those gorgeous, messy, finger-painting years when my children were small. I ran with them in parks and gardens. Then they started school and I surrendered too easily to the pressures of work and parenting.

I dreamt that time of another child. A feral girl, rank and unkempt.

Unsocialised she knew no rules but she had a cat-like knowledge of cause and effect, doing what she had to do to stay alive. And like a cat, if I was quiet she would sit on my lap. I never heard her speak but her eyes, her eyes held all the truths I had forgotten. I was in therapy at that time, exploring my own story, and as I prepared to leave that space, my body urged me to run. Living in Cliftonwood, where Bristol edges up to the Avon Gorge, I would run over the Suspension Bridge into ancient woodlands, open parklands, fields and streams.

Inspired by Robert Macfarlane I searched for the wild in my everyday and found it in the greedy thrusting of life through order; dandelions in concrete, a hare in winter stubble. I joined an off-road running club and we shared adventures. I ran beyond the streetlights into darkness. I ran through streams and bogs. I ran hills. I ran barefoot. I got injured and recovered, slowly learning to trust my body, to stay with it, to love it, to listen to it.

I re-found the wild in me.

Struggling with a job in the health service that sometimes sucked me dry, I asked myself what, if I died tomorrow, would I regret. My body told me I did not write. So retired, I write and I run. When I am stuck in my story-telling I go for a run. The rhythm soothes my anxious mind. My thoughts float free. The sunlight shifts, a deer startles; I wonder, I run. If I let my mind wander my body will fall, so I trust that when ideas emerge, my body will carry those thoughts until I next sit down to write. I run on, cursing the brambles, slipping in the mud and rain, enjoying the struggle.

Running and story-telling; two sisters in the same body, rubbing along together, sometimes squabbling but knowing how to make up, sometimes playing and knowing how to make up stories together. 

A Room of My Own: Ando McDonnell

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A room of my own.

I have no room. No office. No studio. No desk. 

No home.

For the past ten years, I have been nomadic. 

For the past five years, I have lived mostly in the forest. Occasionally in a monastery. Other times in a forest ashram or private hermitage.

A basic, simple, essential life.

Sleeping in old canvas tents in December. 

Graduating to wooden huts, just big enough for a bed, and space to enter and place down your clothes, and stretch in the morning. 

…and back to tents, and tiny caravans.

No electricity.

The floor has long been my desk. 

Often, the forest floor.

Today, my desk, by chance, is twelve foot long solid oak dining table in a Georgian listed building, with full length window opening out onto stone steps down into three acres of grounds. I have been gifted this opportunity for three months.

It’s a long way from the life in a tent, notebook or iPad on the forest floor. 

But it’s no different for me. Except, perhaps, lacking in simplicity. 

I appreciate the luxury of it, whilst knowing it is temporary.

What isn’t?

The funny thing is that whilst sitting at this table, I crave the forest, a place to walk and sit under the pine trees. To listen to and watch the wind flowing through great swathes of eucalyptus trees. My old teachers, the trees.

Instead, I have new teachers. A tall old failing cedar. A fresh young magnolia. Grand old horse chestnut trees, their folded unborn leaves containing hand like leaves, bursting with strength and life force.

How do I write?

There is no how. No method.

Should there be? 

I don’t believe in definitions.

Or frameworks. 

If I believe in something, I believe in being empty and free.

I believe in Zen. 

In poetry.

To write poetry, the truest, most living poetry, is to be empty, like the bamboo.

When the bamboo is empty, hollow, only then can the wind play it’s song through it.

A Zen poet is like this. 

An empty thing, like Chuan Tzu’s Useless Tree.

What purpose do I need to write Zen poetry?

None. 

I need to be purposeless. 

Truly purposeless.

And in my case, deskless is part of that.

So today, I write this article from a 12 foot solid oak table in a grand house. 

But in three months, it is scheduled to be a 3 foot tiled cast iron table in a tiny Portuguese villa. 

These places, regardless of shape or size, are always my hermitage.

Because true hermitage is an attitude, not a location.

Do I crave a room of my own?

Yes, sometimes.

But the lack of one has given so much power to the poetry. 

I would like a room of my own, but I don’t need one. 

Just something to write with, when I wake before dawn, with words taking shape inside the hollow bamboo of my being.

The song of the wind.

The song of the wind needs no place of it’s own. 

It’s the movement that creates the song.

Ando is a Zen poet and writer, a former lay forest monk.

https://www.patreon.com/theunsui

http://unsui.co/

http://facebook.com/theunsui

A Day In The Life Of A Writer: Jane Eastwood

My biggest issues with my writing are DISCIPLINE and CONFUSION! 

I have so many ideas/projects swimming about it my head that I tend to let them do just that – “swim” and postpone “I will do it tomorrow”.

This is a BIG mistake on my part.  I write better first thing in the morning. That’s okay you might say but if I go to my solitary confinement room (which is essential to me, I can’t cope with interruptions OF ANY KIND when writing) at that time I end up being there sometimes all day long and nothing else gets done.

Consequently – I have an additional“guilt” factor running around in my mind too.

I think “Must get the hovering/washing/ironing” done BEFORE I write which is FATAL as by the time I have done all the menial tasks I am way beyond wanting to write anything at all.

During household chores I try to simplify the confusion of “where to start” and “categorise” these projects – I want to write a book about my disability which is profound deafness. I am also currently “blogging”.  My youngest son will be forty soon, I have had a family tree made so imminently the PRIORITY is that I MUST write an accompanying history of the family to complete the birthday gift.

I tend to work much better with this kind of “deadline” which comes back to “discipline.”  I know I will discipline myself to complete that project because in my mind I “have to do it”.  I get lazy about the blog and don’t keep up with it regularly enough so when I update that it tends to be an all day project.  That leaves little time for my book on disability.

I benefitted so much from working with Bridget on courses exactly because there were deadlines to fulfil.

I need to make rules and I need to adhere to them for example, I could set aside certain days of the week for writing.

That said I find “spontaneity” is an essential tool for my writing so once again I am confronted with another dilemma, discipline and rules versus spontaneity.  Tricky.

The strangest phenomenon of all is totally inexplicable to me. Writing is the EASIEST PART! When I write it just “flows” and all gets poured on to the page with ease.  Getting my head around all these other challenges is what “blocks” me. 

From the archive: The Fire

In the winter this house is heated solely by a wood-burning stove. It’s fairly labour intensive to chop logs.  

And it takes commitment to keep bringing them in, to keep the fire burning through the day. But I love it. We have something alive, something wild at the centre of our world. It hisses and cracks and roars just like any other wild thing. The Beech wood, with its silvery snakeskin bark, lights easily and sizzles. The Oak, its raised bark like the tyre of a four-wheel drive truck, is frustrating slow to catch. But once it does it smolders enduringly, with an intense heat.

Like anything wild, you have to create a relationship with it, rather than impose your hurried ways upon it.

In the mornings if I’m anxious, or impatient, it never catches. If I bring patience to the task it’s ablaze in an instant. There’s a real art to fire lighting. Logs need the friction with other logs to burn, but there has to be enough air between the wood for them to breathe.

At first glance the flames have the delicacy of silk, and it’s alluring. But I know better. Their licking tongue is always hungry. The memory of the terrible smell of burnt hair and skin pricks sharp in my mind.

During the day, whenever I take a break from writing, and come down from my cold office, the fire is waiting. The orange flames endlessly shape-shifting remind me of my potential for creativity.

Some days my body has rigidified into the question mark shape of the anguished writer too long at her desk. Then, those flames laugh at the inflexibility of my body, and my words. They tickle and taunt me. It shifts me from my petty concerns.

On the worst writing days I’m thickheaded and wobbly-limbed. Then they seduce me back to life, stroking my face and my back. Painfully wonderful. They know that I’ll never write well with that tension in my mind and body. After these encounters, I go back to my desk with their enchanting laughter ringing in my ears.

Back in my cold office, I ask myself: how can I lay my words side by side so that they have space to breathe, but are close enough for their friction to make my stories blaze? How can my words form shapes as endlessly varied as flames? How can I release the energy contained in those words, but not be burnt in the process, or smother them for fear of the heat?

The Weekly Prompt

Observe a fire. Write about the shapes you see flickering in the flames. First, describe it using as wide a variety of verbs as possible. Then, relax your eyes a little. Now, what do you see? Let your imagination blaze.

First Published March 18th 2013

A Writer's Process: John Porter

Walking to my studio in the Leighton Artists’ Colony just before dawn, I mentally pen a haiku;

 

Gravel dark and wet
Shines at first light as I walk
Easy under foot
 

A mist lingering from damp snow overnight creeps through half perceived trees.  The few amber lights along the path are just enough to show the way through the pines.  I imagine deer lying nearby in long brown grass beneath the trees, but the dim illumination does not reveal their location.

 In the bright circle of the Valentine Studio porch light, a young man unexpectedly appears and slouches past with a large portfolio tucked under his arm.  He looks up momentarily with a sad, tired expression that seems to say;  'That was my last night spent on the drawings … now I'm leaving but wish I had more time.’  

But I am just arriving to work for a month.   I turn right down the little track that leads to the bottom of a small ravine where my studio Evamy awaits.  I set down my computer case on the porch.  It makes a soft thump on the old boards. 

In the darkness, I search for the key in jacket pockets before remembering that it is carefully zipped safe in the inside pocket.  Fishing it out, I fiddle with the handle lock, before feeling it relent and the door opens towards me, sticking slightly on the jam just as it did three years ago when last I opened it.  

Switching on the light, a warm interior welcomes me back.  I cannot resist saying aloud; ‘Hello Evamy ’ as if addressing an old friend or lover.  I make a quick inspection.  Two computer chairs are neatly placed at either end of the long desk surface.   A lounge chair extends beneath shelves with clean glasses, a Banff Centre mug and a box tea bags left by the last occupant.   Nothing has changed, except perhaps. me. 

This is where I wrote my first book.  It success renewed my life and connected me with so many different people.  

My main job is no longer as a business advisor to small engineering companies.  I am now a writer.

I extract a tea bag from the box and fill the kettle, putting the carton of milk in the small fridge beneath the sink.     Multi reflections of my presence move hither and thither in the studios many windows.  They are still dark mirrors before the dawn.  In an hour they will be windows again, revealing the woods beyond and hopefully an old friend.  I recall an earlier haiku;

 

We work together
You store pine cones for winter
I fill a blank page
 

No more excuses.  With tea made, I sit down and turn on the computer.  While it fires up, I extract the first of hundreds of poems which need to be polished and brought into the light. 

A Writer's Process: Kate A. Hardy

I used to have a boyfriend whose creative processes came to life at about two in the morning.

He could work all night, cocooned in his dimly lit room, working on scripts and emerge briefly at around six in the morning when I was feeling at my most artistically productive . . . needless to say, the relationship didn’t last.

    And so it has continued. Six-thirty in the morning, in bed, with tea, that’s my writing time. The day hasn’t really started, lists of stuff to be done, safely downstairs. Dreams still cling and the previous days visual and audial impressions have been stocked ready for use – consciously or subconsciously. On the rare occasions that I don’t work at that time I feel slightly distracted all day, a niggling cloud hovering over my personal horizon.

    So, the writing process itself . . . I want to make structure but often (mostly) that seems to be an elusive thing, less so for short stories – an idea presents itself and refuses to go away until written down at least in a skeletal form. As they are short (5,000 or so words) it’s easier to craft a structure, a beginning, middle and end.

  Novels, for me, are more of a vast plane stretching out with a million possibilities

However much I try to plan, they take on a form of their own – usually fabricated by the characters themselves who seem to decide themselves what is about to happen next.

    This spontaneous form of working is exciting and I never find myself staring at a blank page wondering where to go next, however it does mean a lot of work later, rewriting, figuring out plot continuity elements and reining in the more ‘tangenty’ aspects of my writing.

    After my early morning a start, real life starts to encroach.

I pack up the ideas for a while and deal with the everyday. At some point I will walk dogs. For my writing process it’s vital to walk and think, look at trees, clouds, buildings, peoples’ gardens, etc. Most ideas seem to spring from my body being engaged in movement – swimming, particularly.

    Throughout the day, when possible, I will edit and re-write, write blogs and generally carry out stuff associated with writing, but the actual, real writing is an early morning activity; anything I ever write late at night will be stilted, probably incomprehensible and will need to be deleted at six-thirty the following morning . . .    

     

A Day In The Life Of A Writer: Elizabeth Ducie

When people ask me if I’m retired, I am indignant. True, I will never see 60 again, unless I take my mother-in-law’s example and start counting the years backwards.

True, I no longer have a day job that pays the bills. True, I have thrown out most of my business suits and spend my days in jeans or shorts. But I still work, I protest: I am a full-time writer!

But what does that mean? Do I work a 9-5 shift, five days a week? Do I have someone managing my time and giving me instructions? Let’s think about that.

Even without a regular alarm clock, I get up very early; usually before six o’clock. If it’s a gym day, I head to the nearest town, punish my body for a while and then return for breakfast. Otherwise I hit the laptop as soon as I am up. But either way, I am working well before many employed people.

And in the mornings, I write. Whether it’s a chapter or two of the next novel, a short story for a competition, an article or blog post, I try to get some new words down on (virtual) paper every day.

It’s the quantity of words that I use as my main measure of productivity. (In my earlier life, I was a production manager and it’s hard to drop the terminology.)

As a self-published (by choice) author, I am also responsible for marketing and sales, so there’s lots of administration and promotion to be fitted into the day. That’s my afternoon task; less creative but equally satisfying.

I knock off about tea-time in order to catch up with the early evening quizzes (my guilty secret) but will always have the laptop set up on the table in the lounge. I often return to it during the evening, although it will mainly be for lighter work, like catching up on social media (and yes, that’s work too).

With a life-style like this, weekends mean very little and so this would tend to be my timetable, whatever day the calendar is showing.

So it’s fair to say I work more than a 9-5 shift, seven days a week. But I am my own boss and I manage my own time. If I want to take a couple of hours off for coffee with a friend, or go to the hairdressers mid-week, I do.

No, I’m not retired; I am a full-time writer; and I have the best job in the world.

www.elizabethducie.co.uk