Reflections

By James Manlow

Thoughts on writing

Well, it’s officially autumn. The year is turning again, stirring up reflections on change and life’s many cycles. There will be spooky goings on to thrill us as the nights draw in, and the great religious festivals of new beginnings to inspire hearts and minds; the season too for readers to curl up in the evenings with treasured books and for writers everywhere to finally knuckle down to those put-off projects.

I tend to write poetry all the year round, but autumn and winter suits me best for stories. Like many writers I often find it hard to get going when faced with the blank page or the prospect of a long project like a novel, and juggling parenthood and the day job, just finding the time to write anything at all is an ongoing challenge.

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When it comes to poetry, one of the most useful tips that has worked for me is from poet William Stafford who advised,

‘Before anyone else is awake, write something’.

Getting up before anyone else in the house works especially well for generating new material fast, especially poems. That’s 30 new poems a month, 365 a year if you can stick at it, most of which will be no good, of course, but the odds are that a least a dozen or so will be keepers and worth working on. This type of exercise is also good for writers with a tendency  - which I share -  to become particularly precious and protective about everything they write, often reworking the same piece over and over; it’s a wonderful reminder of how immense the imagination is and how easily it can be put to use to generate new work regularly.

On the fiction side of things, when daunted by the blank page, I try to follow Hemmingway’s advice:

‘All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’

I also use a practical trick of turning a three-minute egg timer over and promising myself that I only have to write until the sand runs out and then I can go off and do something else. Nine times of of ten, by the time the three minutes are up, I’ve forgotten all about the egg timer and I’m away, already deeply absorbed in my writing world.

The other type of procrastination I can be prone to, especially when it comes to writing novels, is the age-old argument of whether to plot minutely beforehand or just plunge straight in. Careful plotter as I have been the past, these days more and more I am trying to follow Ray Bradbury’s advice to just jump off the cliff and build your wings in the way down. That is the task I’ll be setting myself this autumn; writers, after all, must write. So before year’s end, perhaps it’s time to finally get that project off the ground (you know the one). Happy landings everyone.