Treats for Writers

I think it was Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way who recommended buying treats for your “inner writer”. Somebody said that anyway, and it’s a bit of advice that I’ve taken fully on board. Some writers like to buy themselves fancy fountain pens and pink ink, for others it’s cute little magnets to stick inspirational quotes to the fridge. My inner writer gets notebooks. Lots and lots of them. More than she can possibly use.

Look at them. Aren’t they beautiful? I love to scribble all over their pristine white pages with blue Beautiful Notebooksbiro. Hmmmm. Lovely.

But although I can spend hours at a time writing in them, I hardly ever read them. Until today, when I was looking for a description I wrote down in Andalucia last year that I thought I could work into a short story.

What an eye opener! I can’t ever lose those books because if anybody found them, it would be like giving them a portal into my brain. They’re not diaries. I don’t write, Dear Diary, I feel so down today, blah blah blah, but every thought that flits through my head, instead of going safely into storage in the deep recesses of my memory, slips down my arm, through the pen and onto the page. It’s the path of least resistance.

My notes read like a stream-of-consciousness (Yes! I knew one day I would be able to tag “stream of consciousness”) narrative: maybe some vague element in the wedding scene of the aunt wondering if she was right after all? Don’t forget to sweep the balcony – pistachio nut shells. Wedding dress, foaming skirt, wading through sea, foam, waist deep. Why is there a frog on my pistachio nuts?

Yes, why was there a frog on my pistachio nuts? I’ve got no idea. I don’t even remember that happening but it must have done, because I’ve written it in my notebook. I’ve also got notes for flashback scenes but I don’t know what story they are flashing back from and there’s an idea that I had recently that I thought was brand new but which I now see I was mulling over as far back as October last year. It makes me wonder what happens to all the random thoughts that people have that don’t get trapped between the acrylic covers of a notebook. Where do they all go? Are they floating through the air waiting for someone else to tune in and receive them? Or do they coil up into little bundles in dark pockets of the brain, never to stir again?

I would love to sit and ponder this for a while, but I have to get on with some writing. Reading those notebooks has got my synapses sparking all over the place, illuminating long forgotten ideas that I want to go back to and work on straight away before I lose them again.

Adios Andalucia

Remember when I said that I was going to finish the first draft of my novel by the end of this year? Well, that hasn’t happened yet and with less than two weeks to go, it looks like I am going to be dragging an unfinished novel into 2009 with me. The two short stories I wanted to finish will get done though and I’ve, ahem, started on a third.

It kind of developed out of the descriptions I’ve been making of the landscape here. I had the feeling that I could turn my notes into a short story with a very strong sense of place. Since today is my last day in Andalucia, writing the story has also been a nice way to reflect on my time here. Those three months sure went by fast.

For my last short story effort of this year, I’m trying to avoid the two mistakes I always make when writing short fiction: over-writing and over-plotting. I think the over-writing stems from my desire to create beautiful images with words. I go over each sentence several times so that each one is part of an elaborately constructed description.  In the end, all the imagery distracts the reader from the story. The over-plotting is probably something I picked up in school when we learned that a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Unless you have 8 000 to 10 000 words to work with, there will be no space for all this build up. With only 2 000 – 5 000 words, you want to head straight for the climax. A short story should be a moment of clarity, or an epiphany. Once you start talking about plot, you are in already in trouble.

Notes from Andalucia

We actually got some snow here the other night. Not what I was expecting in the south of Spain but I’m not complaining. The mountains look beautiful with their sparkly white peaks, especially when the sun is setting and the sky goes dusky pink. I want to take photos but I know they’ll never look as good as in real life. Someone ought to invent a camera where what you see through the lens is what comes out on the photo.

SunsetI took the picture on the right a few weeks ago. There was a lot of sand in the air and as the sun was setting it looked like a volcano had erupted and molten lava and ash were spilling across the sky. Not that you can tell from this photo where the dramatic colours have somehow been bleached out. It still turned out better than my photo of the full moon though, which looks more like a melting blob of lard sliding across a frying pan.

Since I can’t get replicate the wonderful things that I see in photos, I’ve been jotting down descriptions in my notebook in case I can work them into a short story later. I often do this without thinking too much about it and when I read over my notes again later (if I can decipher my terrible handwriting) then I am surprised at the crazy things I’ve written. For example: “the sky is the colour of chewitts”, “the fine red dust filling the car like smoke smelled faintly of coconut”, “the fringe of prickly pears on the cacti look like fat sausage fingers.” What is this? My subconscious is obviously obsessed with food.

Actually, I am rather suffering from my own bad cooking at the moment. I’m afraid my menu for writers was not a joke and I do live off toast and pasta. I have tried to make pancakes since I’ve been here but they got stuck to the pan and tore to pieces when I tried to turn them over and my attempt at an omelet was aborted at the last moment and the yucky mess salvaged as scrambled eggs. I never thought I would say this but I am looking forward to going home at Christmas to my mother’s cooking.

Agua

I’m renting a room in the south of Spain for a few months to give me some time to write my novel. Today I was I curled on the sofa reading a book (i.e. not writing my novel) when a man came to the door. I have been working through Michel Thomas’s Spanish CDs but that did not help me at all when it came to trying to understand what this man was telling me. He sounded quite excited about something. I got the word “Agua” – water – and from the hand gestures he was making I guessed that he was talking about a water pipe. He motioned to me to follow him round the back of the house where our water tank is. A pipe connected to the tank had somehow come apart at the joint and water was gushing out onto the driveway. Not good in general and particularly not now when there is a drought.

The man then produced some tools and began tinkering with the pipe, at one point indicating that I should get out the way before a jet of water shot in my direction. I had, and still have, no idea how the pipe came apart or how he was able to see it from the road (it is hidden from view by the driveway) and began to worry that he was a conman who went around breaking people’s water pipes and then fixing them for a fee. I was already planning how I would evade him if he asked for money (I would point over his shoulder, wait till he turned, scramble past him down the driveway and lock myself into the house – not a very sophisticated plan, I know) when he put his spanner away, said “Adios!” and walked off, the pipe now intact and leak free.

How silly of me to worry that he was a conman. He was obviously just a good person who saw that my water pipe was broken and wanted to help. I think. If a bill for the repair comes in the next few days I’ll let you know.

Pep Talk

How exciting! This morning I had an e-mail in my inbox from Philip Pullman! Not addressed to me personally, though. It was a motivational e-mail sent to everyone taking part in NaNoWriMo to encourage us with our writing. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post on point of view, to write well you  need to read. In his e-mail Philip Pullman wrote much the same thing: “Every novelist I know—every novelist I’ve ever heard of—is, or was, a passionate reader.” He also wrote that when people ask him where he gets his ideas from he replies “I don’t know where they come from, but I know where they come to: they come to my desk, and if I’m not there, they go away again.” This is the gist of the Picasso quote I have stuck above my desk.

Despite receiving this affirming e-mail this morning, I was rather slow to get started with the writing today. The sun is shining again in Andalucia again so I spent a large part of the day on the terrace plugged into my iPod. It wasn’t until 6pm when the sun was beginning to set that I got back to my laptop and tried to get another 2 000 words hammered out.  There was a moment there when I thought I wasn’t going to make it but the feeling of disappointment that overwhelmed me was so unbearable that I forced myself to carry on.  I am so pleased I did because I reached the 20 000 word mark in my novel and can now go to bed knowing that I have achieved something wonderful. Perseverance is the key.

The Perfect Evening

The real advantage of DVDs over videos, in my opinion, is not that they are more compact and more durable, or that you can skip easily and precisely from one scene to another without having to spool through everything in between; the real advantage is the bonus features.

As I sit here watching the deleted scenes and actor interviews, with my sixth mug of tea in my hand, I think what a wonderful way to spend an evening. And when I glance out the window and see the lazy half moon that has rocked onto its back, coloured yellow by sand blown from the desert, I think what a wonderful place to be spending my evenings in.