Monthly Archives: December 2013

Flushed with success?

Bards in the BogOne of the most surprising highlights of the last few weeks was receiving a photograph of a toilet. Not just any old toilet but a public toilet in the Shetlands. When I discovered that my poem had been selected as one of the ‘Bards in the Bog’ competition winners, I was delighted but assumed that I would never get to see my poem on display. The competition, launched by poet Jen Hadfield in association with the Shetland Library, aims to place winning poems in public toilets across the Shetlands (http://www.shetland-library.gov.uk/Bards.asp).  Pretty cool, I thought. Shame I would never get to visit. Bizarrely, a work colleague’s sister happens to live in the Shetlands and made the effort to locate the actual toilet in question and sent me this snap. Forget being Poet Laureate. I am content to be a rhymer of the restroom, a lyricist of the loo.
Writing about this is perhaps just an excuse to share one of my favourite Jen Hadfield poems (from Nigh-No-Place). It seems particularly fitting for this season.

Paternoster

by Jen Hadfield

Paternoster. Paternoster.
Hallowed be dy mane.
Dy kingdom come.
Dy draftwork be done.
Still plough the day
And give out daily bray
Though heart stiffen in the harness.
Then sleep hang harness with bearbells
And trot on bravely into sleep
Where the black and the bay
The sorrel and the grey
And foals and bearded wheat
Are waiting.
It is on earth as it is in heaven.
Drought, wildfire,
Wild asparagus, yellow flowers
On the flowering cactus.
Give our daily wheat, wet
Whiskers in the sonorous bucket.
Knead my heart, hardened daily.
Heal the hoofprint in my heart.
Give us our oats at bedtime
And in the night half-sleeping.
Paternoster. Paternoster.
Hallowed be dy hot mash.

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It’s all over for another year. #NaNoWriMo

I finally crossed the finish line yesterday with just under 71, 000 words. It’s been quite a 30 days. Some of the obstacles that nearly tripped me up were spilling water into my laptop and losing all my research, plot notes and unfinished chapters (although I love my iPad, I don’t love it for such extended periods of writing!), having major toothache leading to a double molar extraction, and a week of trying to combine an intimidating research placement in a leading publisher’s office with bashing out my own draft. But I made it! I get to wear the Winner T Shirt and I have bragging rights across the internet!

But was it worth it? Have I have written anything worthwhile?

Yes, it was absolutely worth it – mainly for some of the reasons I gave in my previous post about why I was doing it. The commitment to keep writing, regardless of the self-doubts and plot problems, really helped me to get over the horrible gap between the novel-in-my-head and the messy, mistake-ridden attempts to create in on paper. The cheerleading from friends and from all the Wrimos out there meant that I had to keep going, and the folk at NaNoWriMo create a fantastic community spirit.

On the other hand, what I have written is very sketchy still (and I only managed to take one plot strand through to completion with two others still languishing behind). I found I was constructing the world of the novel and getting to understand my own plot more than I was writing anything like a finished draft. I have blocked most of it out, in very broad brush strokes, but there is all the detail to complete. This is all I expected to achieve – and I am delighted to have a significant outline to work on from now on. But it is far from a ‘novel’ yet.

The most important lessons have been about getting back into the rhythm of daily writing, and exerting myself to create (and live) actual scenes, not just synopses and backstory. I intend to keep going now, perhaps with not quite the same intensity, but certainly with a daily writing commitment (I suspect this novel is a two year project). The story feels like it is out in the world now, and the characters with it. My commitment to it is much deeper. After 70, 000 words, I have come too far not to go on to completion.

I sometimes found that I was beginning to think in 2000 word chunks (after getting into that daily habit) which is not alway appropriate to the fiction I am trying to create, and I also found it hard to hang onto some of the sense of period in the language the characters use. Nevertheless, I discovered all sorts of plot surprises and character developments due to the sheer momentum of NaNoWriMo.

So,  in the end, I have gained much valuable learning, a significant chunk of text to work with, a sense of plot and character trajectory, a daily writing habit and a bunch of new Wrimo  friends. Was it worth it? Yes, yes, yes.

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