Although I haven’t had much writing time of late, I’m always thinking about it – about stories and writing and the way words hang together. And in the midst of all the things that have been keeping me from writing – among them copyediting and proofing a forthcoming novel and continuing the grind of renovations we’ve been doing on the house – something occurred to me.
You see, I like these pavers.
I’m not housey. I’m not decoratey. I’ve been driven to the depths of frustration over having to make so many banal choices during the renovating process. I don’t care about tiles or paint or – god help us all – grout colour. But at the same time, you have to choose something. There’s a process you have to move through and perhaps not caring should make it easier, but it doesn’t seem to have worked that way for me.
On the weekend, I went down to Kakamigahara, in Gifu Prefecture. I was doing research for my novel, The Last Wild Thing, but while I was there, I was able to catch up with one of my host families, from my time as a high-school exchange student. In the usual spirit of Japanese hospitality, they treated me to many things, among them participation in a pottery class, a hobby my host father has recently taken an interest in.
When the class began, I was asked what I wanted to make. During the class, it was suggested that I begin working the clay only once I had a clear idea of what I was aiming for. After the class, I was asked what I had made.
Thinking about all of this later, I realised something interesting – that without thinking about it, I had approached the clay exactly as I approach the writing of a novel. That I had set out without any idea of where it was I was heading. That when I had stopped and tried to be ‘sensible’ and do some advance planning I had been completely at a loss. That there was no way I could make a plan without actually beginning the process. That what I needed to do was begin, to get my hands moving and the wheel turning and see what happened.
Bet you didn’t realise it was Poetry Week, did you? That’s because i) poetry-related events tend to pass most people by without notice; and ii) it’s only at my house, or more specifically, in my brain. Yes, it’s a self-declared Poetry Week in which I undertake to gather together the fragments of the many poems-in-progress (PIPs?) scattered here and there on my computer and my desk and in the dusty corners of my mind. I’m reading at Perth Poetry Club next Sunday and am weary of cracking open my little book Cleanskin to read the same poems over and over.
So I hereby resolve to complete one new poem a day between now and then. I know I can do this because I have so many poems that are ‘almost there’, that need just that final push of commitment to bring them to completion. And I’ve been resisting it – partly because I have a lot of other things going on and partly because bringing something to completion implies a sort of satisfaction with its final shape, a letting go I’ve found myself reluctant to participate in. It’s not quite a lack of confidence; though it can be confronting to declare something ‘finished’, laying it open to review, I don’t think that’s it in this case. I think it has more to do with enjoyment of the process. I like the openness of a poem in process, of the sense of possibility. Once it’s done, it’s done, and it feels like a kind of abandonment, a shutting down of the process of exploration and association I find so appealing.
I’m deep in writing mode at the moment. I’m also deep in re-writing and proofing and a range of other things. And reading, always reading. I’ve been reading Eireann Corrigan, an author I discovered by accident when I inherited the Writing for Children course at Curtin University from Georgia Richter. Readings from the course’s previous incarnation included a short excerpt from one of Corrigan’s books (a YA poetry memoir titled You Remind Me Of You) – just a few poems but enough for me to immediately see that this was great stuff, and wonder why I hadn’t heard of her before. I haven’t managed to track that book down yet but I did find Splintering – a YA verse novel – and was reassured that Corrigan is as fiercely talented as those first few pages – even the first line, which made me stop in my tracks – had me believe.
Here is that rarest of things – a verse novel which doesn’t sacrifice the focus and richness of language poetry demands in the service of narrative, which achieves, effortlessly it seems, that precarious balancing act or fusion in which both elements pull equally together.
The writers reading this are smiling their wry writerly smiles right now. Because they know exactly how much effort goes into effortlessly.
I think every writer knows this moment, when the novel you’ve been wrestling with suddenly turns and rolls over, like a dog baring its submissive belly and says, “Yes, okay, you win. The way is clear. Go on, now.”
Ahh, I do like this.
Of course, I suspect most writers also know the moment that can follow – when the dog, having given you your brief belly-rubbing moment, leaps up and locks your wrist in a death-grip, and the dance begins again.
But that’s another story altogether (hopefully).
For now, back to work, with guarded optimism.
* WIP = Work In Progress
In my ‘Writing’ folder there is a ‘Junior Fiction’ folder. In my ‘Junior Fiction’ folder there is a ‘Duck for a Day’ folder.
This is all well and good. This is the sign of an organised mind, an organised computer, a manageable filing system.
But what is inside the ‘Duck for a Day’ folder?
When I talk to school groups, I sometimes show pages from my notebooks, or bits and pieces of paper where I’ve jotted down story ideas. And in doing so, I often make the point that neat handwriting is a very good thing. Because sometimes – quite often, really – when I come later to read what it is that I’ve written down, I find that I can’t, that the idea I remember as being so very brilliant is in fact a meaningless series of squiggles. Or I get to the shops and discover I can’t decipher half the items on my list.
But sometimes things work the other way. Sometimes having terrible handwriting leads, accidentally, to all sorts of surprising connections. In poetry workshops, I’m always talking about making words jostle up against words they wouldn’t normally hang around with. And sometimes this is what happens when I try to make sense of my own writing.