Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Power of Lines

I attended school before health and safety; human rights hadn’t been embraced never mind the rights of a child and corporal punishment ruled. It wasn’t called that at primary school, it had no name, it was just It. Your parents sent you off confident that you would learn and be protected. Instead you suffered endless abuse. Some benign – standing on a chair all dinner because you dared to socialise whilst you grabbed a rushed sandwich or spending break with your nose pressed to the stone wall because you accidently tripped and the teacher thought you were pushing. Others sadistic – being hit with the thin edge of a ruler because you were pushed in the queue and your teacher thought you were dancing. And then there were the punishments which were an affront to literacy. Lines.

I was given lines once because I hadn’t copied my RE passage off the board quickly enough. I was five and the passage was about Jesus’ forty days in the dessert being tempted by the Devil. I had to write over and over, I must work quickly and neatly and then, on the next break, I had to copy the rest of the passage from a friend’s book.

Last Monday I gave myself another ‘lines’ exercise but not in any kind of tribute to my rather pathetic primary school experience. This was the act of reducing my poem from 67 lines to 40 in order to meet submission guidelines. I’ve read people’s letters in a number of literary magazines aimed at writers, letters where the author bemoans the paltry word or line allowances. Forty lines? Fifteen hundred words? And yet, despite my toils, I am firmly of the belief that restricting and shortening can (and usually does) improve work.

Having been inspired to write after reading Gethin Chamberlain’s harrowing article, my poem If The World Ends… went through countless drafts – there are only six electronic versions but my poetry writing depends upon my beautiful fountain pen and decent quality paper before I get anywhere near a computer. And my first electronic version was 67 lines. And I loved every single one of them. And I had a coffee and asked myself – is it so precious that I don’t submit? Or find a different forum – one with a more generous lineage? But I knew the answer was no.

Restricting lines makes us better poets because it makes us mess around with line length. It makes us take a coloured pen to everything, highlighting the bits we can’t lose, circling the iffy bits. Playing with metre, and enjambment… I love this stage in poetry writing but I’m curious what other poets and readers think.

If you’d like to read an early draft of my poem (if you can bear the subject matter more than once) and compare it to the published version then I’d love to hear from you – please do leave a comment or send me an email.

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Revelation Number One

I’ve been meaning to start a new Blog for some time. That’s not to say that my old Blog has died, just that after such a length of time it seemed strange reposting. I needed inspiration and, today, it came.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid number 8 is about to be published and publishers across the globe are teaming up to ensure a near simultaneous worldwide launch. The news transported me to my daydreams – Booker Prize, Costa First Book Award, Guardian Debut… they all conflate into one rose-tinted ambition. In reality my goals are far less highfalutin – give my work away, publish a letter, a poem, an article on something I discovered, a travel piece, win a small competition – even just one of these would transform me from what I am now to A WRITER.

But what am I now?

In actual fact my life changed when I decided that I am, already, a writer. Like any artist I practise every day and am very much still within my apprenticeship but I am a writer nevertheless. I write book reviews at Waterstones. I write short stories, poems, memoirs, novels, short articles, several Blogs, a newsletter. The only thing I’m lacking is that elusive badge of honour – publication.

And so it was that the diary of the aforementioned kid inspired me to start this Blog. I realised, as I made my morning cup of something hot with caffeine (I go healthy after lunch) that one of the biggest reasons for not yet being published was that I am a Wimpy Writer. Yes, I realise that my writing is not yet as polished as I hope it will be in years to come. And, yes, I still have lots more to learn but the single biggest factor in my lack of success (if success is measured via how much you have published) is my Wimpiness.

I am a Wimpy Writer.

I dare say that there are others who may identify themselves as such but I reckon my own, inherent brand of wimpiness is slightly different. I am not averse to rejection, I’ve always taken a stoic attitude to it – better to reveal yourself as you are and be rejected than put on an act and find yourself somewhere that you don’t really want to be. Thus if my poem or story or article doesn’t match the requirements of a particular editor then it does not mean I am a bad writer, just not yet equipped with the skills to write for them.

My own pernicious brand of wimping dates back long before my writing adventures. At sixteen I became an Avon lady and trudged the streets religiously several evenings a week. I had been lucky to inherit a large patch, albeit one with very few regular buyers but, with the amount of houses on the round, there was certainly the opportunity for good sales. Unless you give that round to someone with a very acute sense of not disturbing people.

I did want to be a great Avon lady. I bought samples, bought extra brochures – I had the patter if you deigned to answer the door. And, therein, lay the problem.

It was evening, perhaps people were eating their tea (I’m a Northern girl), or washing-up, or helping kids with homework, or settling in to watch television. I didn’t want to disturb them too much. And so I knocked – gently – and sometimes I might, if I felt particularly confident, knock again but still ever so lightly so as not to spoil their meal, or their reading, or their viewing.

I wasn’t particularly successful.

And so it is with my writing. I don’t mind rejection but I don’t face much of it – given that I don’t like to disturb. I know how many emails people get, how many letters, how many competition entries. And so I stall. I hang around. I knock gently.

So, here it is, my Diary of a Wimpy Writer – and I’m ready for a challenge. Each week I will update my Blog (a publication of sorts) with tales of my writing and knocking. Perhaps, with a little more determination and (hopefully) some persuasion from my readers, I can become less of a wimp and, who knows, actually get my writing out there for a larger audience.