Monday, February 29, 2016

on writing and the first draft.

but you can edit your first draft.

There is very little flare to my shitty first draft. Aside from those first thousand words that I wrote two years ago and edited until they were gleaming it is just facts on a page, with all of the fluency and grace of a seven year old writing about their school holidays – 'I went swimming then I had a burger then my sister punched me in the leg on the way home so I broke her toy and we both got in trouble and it wasn't fair'. I didn't know that I had it in me to write so badly.

The shitty first draft is an notion that stuck with me after reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird five years ago (and then four years ago and three years ago and one year ago - I love that book). Inspired by Earnest Hemingway's assertion that the first draft of everything is shit, its only purpose to get a writer past the terrifyng hurdle of the blank page to the point where they can revise it and tweak it and turn it into a good second draft and an even better third draft, she wrote a whole chapter extolling the virtues of the Shitty First Draft. It is an explosion of the myth that coherent words just flow from those with a gift for them, that a good writer can just write and that if what comes from your hands the first time around is less than readable then writing is not for you.

She says

I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God* likes her or can even stand her.

Very few writers really know what they are doing until they've done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow.

We all often feel like we are pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid. The right words and sentences just do not come pouring out like ticker tape most of the time. Now, Muriel Spark is said to have felt that she was taking dictation from God every morning -- sitting there, one supposes, plugged into a Dictaphone, typing away, humming. But this is a very hostile and aggressive position. One might hope for bad things to rain down on a person like this.

I find myself thinking of this a lot at the moment, as the words stack up and they are mostly terrible. Lamott also advises vehemently against editing as one goes, she says that you must get to the end and then edit. Doing this pains me. Seeing all of those crappy words sitting there disjointedly and clumsily and adding yet more crappy words to them makes me feel slightly sick, but she knows more than me and is very clever and I need someone to tell me what to do and seeing as she makes me laugh a lot it may as well be her. Not everyone agrees with her, this guy for instance, but I don't know who he is, he has never made me laugh and he doesn't care for the word 'shitty', so I see no reason to listen to him. 

I'm not sure I can do it right until the end. I am working in six sections and I suspect that once I have finished the first one I will go back and edit it, partly to see if I can make it readable before I flog myself over 60,000 more words, and partly because there's only so long I can go on living with this drivel on my hard drive. What if I die before I get a chance to edit it and people think that it was meant to be like this? Sheesh.

* Lamott writes a lot about God and Christianity and has written some beautiful books about faith and how she got there from being a raging alcoholic. I am not religious, not with any regularity or predictability anyway, and I love her writings on God, they are some of the most calming, reasuring, inspiring, hilarious books I have ever read. I have reread Travelling Mercies even more times than I've reread Bird by Bird. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Doing, Reading, Listening etc

One week's break from doing these DRL posts is enough for me to have completely lost my momentum, which is no surprise. The reason I impose schedules and routines upon myself is because if I don't have them then I don't do stuff and then trying to make myself do stuff is just about as effective as trying to make myself clean that bit of the toilet that you can only reach with rubber gloves and a sponge.

Doing; further schedules that have fallen apart - writing. I can't remember when I last even opened the files I'm working on. I wouldn't be surprised if my word count has started to drop, sentences dying from neglect, paragraphs eating other ones out of hunger and boredom. I can't bear to look. Monday, I'll do it on Monday. 

Instead of writing I've been doing long weekends, visitors, parenting, storm avoidance, mostly rather fun. Simultaneously though I've been banging my head against the walls of housing, schooling, taxes, employment, unemployment... adulthood in other words. Adulthood is a piece of crap. 

Reading {paper} I finished Purple Hibiscus, it was beautiful. Not as beautiful as Half of a Yellow Sun but not as gruelling either. Still gruelling! Just domestic-violence-and-Catholicism gruelling, not rape-genocide-and-civil-war gruelling. 

Immediately upon finishing it I started Isabelle Allende's Portrait in Sepia, read three pages, fell asleep, woke up forgetting that I'd begun it and started reading Game of Thrones (alternatively titled Murder Tits). It's only writing this now, a week later, that Portrait in Sepia came back to me, poking at that part of my brain labelled 'I'm sure I'm supposed to be doing something, what was that? Did I start doing it already? Did I imagine it? Was it all a dream?'.

I read Allende's memoir My Invented Country in the summer, it was a beautiful if irritating study of nostalgia and homesickness, truth and invention, memory and storytelling and writing one's history. It strikes me that I should probably re-read it, now that those things are on my mind more or less all of the time. I photographed the passage at the top of this post (I love photography as a form of note taking, looking back for this picture I was reminded of exactly where and when I was reading this book - by a playpark, under a tree, overlooking a field of donkeys in a camp site in the Cévennes ) because as someone who finds memory, dreams and imagination to be an irredeemably tangled ball of twine it spoke to me deeply and thrillingly. 

Reading {internets} I have read two beautiful and infinitely helpful pieces about doing and making and being in the last couple of weeks. One is this Huffington Post piece To Anyone Who Fears They're Falling Behind In Life which felt like a letter written straight to me, 

'You don't get to control everything. You can wake up at 5 a.m. every day until you're tired and broken, but if the words or the painting or the ideas don't want to come to fruition, they won't. You can show up every day to your best intentions, but if it's not the time, it's just not the fucking time. You need to give yourself permission to be a human being.'

The other piece was Ted Thompson's The Evolution of a First Novel, written two years ago it's the tale of the painful, interminable process of writing a book, of the stops and starts and false turns and the 'I think it's finished! No, wait, I know it's been five years of work but I'm going to throw 95% of this in the bin and start again.' 

'Before I started this, I was always mystified by how books got written. Like how does anyone get from one of those half-formed 2 a.m. ideas to a bound object with a beautiful jacket and 300 deckled pages? Did that take a couple of weekends locked away in a cabin, or was the author struck by creative lightning after work? It seemed impossible or magical. It seemed like something that could only be achieved by very special people—David Foster Wallace in his bandana, looking forlornly away from the camera, or people who lived in other eras and unironically wore hats.' 

Reading both of these pieces released some of the intense pressure I've felt to Just Fucking Write, the feeling that if I apply myself hard enough I will get it done and I will get it done fast, and replaced that with a more healthy sense of doing it in the length of time it actually takes, not the length of time I think it should take. Of course I haven't written a work in ten days, so maybe I need to dial the pressure back up a little. 

Finally, Laura wrote this beautiful piece about being a mother, Sometimes {Moments From Motherhood} that brought tears to my eyes and spoke to me in a way that nothing I've read about motherhood has done for a long time. Laura is one of those parents who inspires me to do a better job, to play more, to listen harder, to let me kids be themselves and she does it without making me want to hold her head underwater and pelt her with wet toast, that's a skill.  I'm not going to post a quote from it because it's something that needs to be read in its entirety.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Things About Which I Am Inexplicably Melancholy (Or 'February')

  • London, bulbs that I cradled with my ungloved hands, pushed firmly into cold wet soil alive with worms, wrapped gently in a coat of clay and compost, bulbs pushing shoots up through the fallen leaves of the 15 foot bay tree, in the shadow of our red brick terrace, without me.

  • Our flat in Glasgow, that it is still there but it will never be ours again. The huge windows pouring light over bare floorboards, the open shelves in the kitchen where my beautiful things sat and collected dust, the train rattling through the garden making said beautiful things shake slightly, the leaves of trees blowing in the wind beneath us, living high in the rainclouds. The place where I recovered from operations, injected myself with hormones, brought my babies home from the hospital and watched them grow. 

  • Spring time in Edinburgh, pink and white blossom falling from the hundreds of trees that line the Meadows, tiny ballerinas showering the heads of people rushing to and from work, babies sleeping in pushchairs, dogs sniffing at lamposts. Spring time in France, the day when you are driving to the shop and all of a sudden there are the brightest green leaves where before were just row upon endless row of bare brown vines. Spring time every place that has trees.  

  • That bit of dead rabbit on the way to the beach that Lyra tries to make off with every time we walk past, only recognisable as a former rabbit by the one long soft ear still attached to the otherwise furless, fleshless bag of bunny offal hanging from a splayed skeleton.

  • Our kite, dashed from the sky during an attempt to be the kind of parent who says 'yes' to things, not 'maybe another time, when daddy is here'. Slammed repeatedly against the ground by the capricious, violent wind, pounced on by the dog, yelled at by the children, its horizontal strut snapped right in two. 

  • My children, growing and getting bigger and learning to read and write. Once they can read and write what will they need me for? The world will be theirs.

Happy long weekend lovers. The chances of me writing this week's Doing, Reading, Listening with Widdle and Puke at home, bouncing off the walls and asking me to do stuff with them are pretty low so I'll see you next week, when maybe I'll have finished a book! 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Doing, reading, listening, etc

Gold Digging, by Euginia Loli

Doing; meh. It's been one of those fortnights where a stomach thing turned into a head thing turned into a glands and shivering thing and people say 'oh! The days are getting longer! Spring is coming! Isn't it wonderful?' but actually I feel shittier than I did all winter and am getting nothing much at all done and I need those people to stop talking.

I'm learning to drive (for the third time) but this time I live on a island where there isn't a driving instructor so I'm learning with Nye. I mostly don't hate this situation. He's a good teacher, takes fairly kindly to me asking him to please shut up, accepts my yelling at him when his instructions ARE NOT CLEAR with good grace and most importantly - I don't have to give him £50 every time I get in the car with him. Handing over money that I could have spent on something that didn't make me stressed, embarrassed and brimming with fury was pretty much what killed learning to drive for me that last time around. Fitting in a few hours of practise was about as productive as my week got.

Oh and I did a blog post with beach photos, taken with a real camera and edited on a computer and everything. I forgot to promote it anywhere so literally no one has seen it. How do you know about new posts now that Reader is dead? Instagram? Twitter? Facebook?  (I know, Reader has been dead for a long time, I'm in denial about blogging being O.V.E.R. Should I just stop this nonsense and write a newsletter? That's what the cool kids are doing.)

Writing; meh. This week I did three mornings instead of the five I swore I would. On those three mornings I did not do the three hours I swore I would. I'm trying this thing where I tell myself I'm easing in gently, I'm going at my own pace, I'm being kind to myself, but actually I'm scared I might just be lazy. My weekly word count is going dowwwwwwwwn, but it's still up on what it has been for the last two years, so yay for that.

Reading {paper}: I gave up on the dragon book, it just wasn't doing anything for me. For years I would not give up on a book once I had started reading it, doing so felt like a huge failure and embarrassment and sign that I was both a quitter and not a Serious Reader. Now that I have established that I actually am a quitter (and met people who are Serious Readers, who are quite clearly a league above me in the book stakes), I'm a lot happier to throw in things that aren't working for me and the number of books I don't finish is probably equal to if not greater than the number of books I reach the end of. I'm okay with this.

I am now reading Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which I'm feeling a lot more optimistic about. My first experience of her writing was Americanah, which is actually possibly one of the first books that I gave up on. It pained me to do it, reading so much as I had about what a great, important novel it is, but I just couldn't get beyond the first couple of chapters. I tried a few times, but no dice and still worried that I was missing something life-changing, gave the door-stop sized book to the charity shop. Then when I was in France I read Half of a Yellow Sun and holy shit, that was a book, one of the best books I have ever read. The story is unavoidably gruelling, set as it is during the Nigerian civil war, but the characters and the story telling and the writing and well, all of those things that make a book, they were beautiful. You should read it. It will probably make you cry but it's worth it. I opened Purple Hibiscus tentatively, wondering if it would grab me like Yellow Sun or if more like Americnah, it would feel like chewing cardboard, I've only read the first five pages but within a paragraph I breathed a huge sigh of relief , it felt like a book I could get lost in.

Reading {the internets}; I have been reading a lot about Beyoncé . I have never really cared about Beyoncé to be honest but her latest video  Formation - sprung on her fans and the internet and America the day before she performed at the SuperBowl (apparently that's something about football, not bowling, who knew?) - is amazing. Visually it is beautiful but as a piece of protest art about race and gender and the Black Lives Matter movement it is deeply moving. This New York Times piece is a good starting point if you want to read more about it but this collection of writing by black women delves much deeper into many issues surrounding the video, from her use of post-Katrina New Orleans as a setting to her baby girl's beautiful afro to her sheer feminist badassery.

Listening: I didn't bother with Serial this week. Are you listening to it? Do you care? Does it just sound like an awful lot of men being dicks to you? I'm just not sure. I love Sarah Koenig and I miss her in this series. My favourite podcast at the moment is Death, Sex, Money with Anna Sale and this week I listened to the last two episodes - LucindaWilliams who is a country singer and Jeb Corliss who is a nutter who jumps off cliffs. I adore Anne Sale, I listen just for when she occasionally laughs, it is the realest most warming laugh on the whole radio and every time it feels like a gift.

Happy weekend. x

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Friday, February 05, 2016

Doing, reading, listening etc.

Andy Prokh 

What the hell? It's Friday again? What is this 'time' bullshit that keeps passing? And I'm sure I told myself I'd do this every Friday, this blogging thing? 

But I just blogged yesterday. What's that? Rules are rules? Shut up.


I actually haven't been doing a lot of reading and listening this week. Between a storm day that kept the girls home from school on Monday, no electricity for much of Tuesday and a bunch of errands that needed done on Wednesday both my internet time and my writing time has been severely bollocksed this week.

Reading: I've been reading some actual paper books, which has been nice. I'm reading Marie Brennan's A Natural History of Dragons, a Memoir by Lady Trent, which isn't a memoir, obviously but a faux-memoir, about a Victorian-ish era lady dragon enthusiast. It's good, not great. I like the mash up of historical fiction, science fiction and memoir and it's easy bedtime reading but I'm not riveted and I doubt I'll read the rest of the series. 

On the recommendation of a dear friend who shares my prediliction towards Anxiety and Doom I'm also reading Fear, Essential Wisdom For Getting Through the Storm by ThichNhat Hanh. It's less annoying than any other bhuddist books that I've read but it's slow going as it keeps making me cry. Most of what I've read so far are similar techniques, strategies and ideas that I learned about in therapy a few years ago and promptly forgot, all of which do in fact help to dispel my anxiety, once I've stopped blubbing.

Looking at my internet history to see what I've been reading online this week is cringe-worthy, it's almost entirely how to attract the rare cats in Neko Atsume and 3 Messy Signs Your Main Sewer Line is Clogged (I'll spare you the story that led to that one. And the link.)

Reading/Writing: On the recommendation of another friend I did read this BrainPickings piece on the psychology of the daily writing routine, which is something I've been trying to cultivate. Between 9 and 12 is now my Writing Time. Last week went better than this one and between the disruptions of lack of electricity and excess of children at home I managed a paltry 5000 words to last week's 9000, but whatever, I'm still doing it and I'm being kind to myself and I'm letting myself do just one hour when three feels like it might kill me dead. Baby steps.

Watching: Nye and I are watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix at the moment. I've seen it all before but that doesn't seem to be making it any less brilliant/gruelling. People in my real life keep looking at me like I'm deranged when I say that we watch a TV series about American football. These are people who are not doing the internet properly. 

Also watching this vaguely obscene clip of James McAvoy on Cbeebies, over and over again and laughing my arse off.

Listening: Old episodes of This American Life, which are as wonderful as ever. New episodes of Serial, which I find distinctly meh but I can't seem to give up on. And Radio 2, which was back to back Terry Wogan on Monday which made me cry and reminded me that I need to re-watch Stoppit and Tidy Up with my children. Did anyone else watch that as a kid? Nye is literally the only person I've ever mentioned it to who even knows what I'm talking about.

Housekeeping: the food processor is a Kenwood FDP613 (you have to pay more for one with a memorable name). I chose it because it was cheap (for a food processor) and we are broke, also it has pretty good reviews. So far (aside from being mad at it), it does seem good. I don't think it's powerful enough to make smooth nut butter but whatever, Nutella. I never did find the plasters that I KNOW I bought, but a tiny piece of panty liner and a good length of washi tape makes a pretty good alternative, in a pinch. You're welcome.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Opening a Birthday Present.

Oooh! Look at the box! It's so big!

Shiny! Shiny shiny shiny! I'ma gonna make me some fooooooooood!

Cardboard! I love these funny pieces of cardboard! I wonder what's under them?



Hmmm, that's a lot of pieces.

Ugh, I'm going to have to wash them all before I can use it.

Ok, let's do this thing.


This one goes... where? There? Hmm. No, there. Okay, there. Right. Maybe.

I'm going to break this.


Yes, you can play with the whisk, if you're careful with it.


Ok, that one there and this one there and that one there and ok! Let's turn it on!


JESUS CHRIST, that's loud.

But, it works. Good, great.

Let's make us some cashew chocolate spread!


God, this takes aaaaaages.

These pieces are not getting smaller.

I should turn it up.

Is that melting plastic I can smell?

I should dry the other pieces and put them away while I'm waiting.

This is so fun! And shiny! And FUCKFUCKFUCKSHITTINGFUCKOUCH, that's SHARP.


Did the girls hear that? Did I scare them? Please please please don't come through...

No, it's fine. That bloody machine is so loud they can't hear anyyhing.

Shit, that hurts.

Do we have any plasters? No? Fuck, I'm SURE I bought some. I did buy some, but where did I put them?

Oh god, I'm dripping blood everywhere.

How clean is this teatowel? It's not clean at all, is it? Shit, I bloody knew I should have done some laundry yesterday.

Fuck it, it hurts, I don't care if I get sepsis, it needs to stop dripping right now.


Those pieces still aren't getting smaller. This is crap, it doesn't bloody work.

I'll add some water. And blood.

Ugh, the nuts aren't even moving. I'll just poke them with the end of this spoon.

Shit, that didn't sound good. I shouldn't have done that.

This noise is giving me a headache. I hate noise.

Has it stopped bleeeding yet? No. UGH.



That does not look like chocolate spread.

I don't even like chocolate spread.

Okay, I do like chocolate spread. I should have bought some. There's nothing wrong with sugar and palm oil anyway.

Ugh, I need to find a plaster and put the kids to bed. It'll do.


Wait, how am I going to get that out of there?

Do we have a spatula?

We don't have a spatula.

It's never coming out.

Do we have an empty jar?

We don't have an empty jar.

It's not coming out and even if it does come out there's nowhere to put it.



The end.