Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Getting the Thing Said

I have been awarded a Roar for Powerful Words by Mary. Nice to hear that someone thinks my words have power. I'm not entirely sure exactly what this means. But have been happily mulling it over because getting the award entails offering three shards of advice on how to make one's words powerful. And I do like a bit of advising. So here are a few thoughts on giving power to one's writing.

1)I think it was the poet Richard Hugo – in his brilliant book Triggering Town – who said you don't write because you want to say something, but because you have something to say. Huh? Rilke advised his young poet – Letters to a Young Poet – to write only if he is 'driven' to do so. And, finally, in a recent Guardian article Richard Eyre wrote 'Art is the expression of the voice of gifted individuals with a point of view', but, you can get 'bad' art.

All this adds up to suggest that to create art at all you first need to have more than a notion that you quite fancy doing it. You need to have a point of view, something to say, and you must really want to say it. Be driven to say it. The thing you want to say has to exist before the idea to write it takes hold. If this is the case you will make art. But it could be bad art, how? The only thing I can think of is that you haven't managed to convey the thing you want to say to your chosen audience. So you need two things: you need to know exactly what you want to say, and you need to know who you want to say it to. After that it's just a matter of practicing until you get it right.

For me writing is about engaging in a conversation. Often when I begin a new piece the conversation is with myself. It is through the act of writing that I am slowly discovering what my point of view is. I have written reams in the past few months, most of it crap, but I feel sure that once I know with absolute certainty what it is I feel so driven to say my writing will improve. Then I will be able to identify my reader. At the moment I write for myself and my best friend. As I write it is like I am imagining a cosy chat between her and me.

Writing this, now, has reminded me of the Ten Thousand Hour Rule. This asserts that no one, geniuses included, will be the best they can be at their chosen craft until they have actively practiced for ten thousand hours. This can be both heartening, 'I can improve!' and debilitating: ten thousand hours adds up to eight hours a day for five years! I probably haven't done one thousand yet.

2)Embrace the shitty first draft. One of my tutors said this to me and I have since scrawled it on my wall. It reminds me not to hate myself for not being Peter Carey. It gives me permission to be the novice I am. The most beautiful gardens thrive only because of the dung heaped upon them. The best, most accomplished writers re-draft endlessly. Roses don't fall off the end of their pens any more than they do mine. They are ruthlessly, artfully, nurtured from the soil of first drafts.

3)Explore words. Words are the writer's medium, as stone a or wood is the sculptor's. A writer needs to be thoroughly intimate with words. With their possibilities. Unless this is so, conveying meaning, generating the intended feeling in readers, will be a thankless task. Why make your job harder? Engage with the community of words.
I've herad of writers who don't like to read, fearing they will be overly influenced by other writers. I can see that might be a problem whilst in the process of creating, though personally I find my own voice grows stronger as I edit my work. Chip, chipping away until the point I am trying to make reveals itself. If you really do have something to say, hearing – reading – someone else say something else shouldn't be able to stifle it. Seeing how others shape with words shows their potential.

So there you are, a few of my thoughts on how to make your words as powerful as they can be. Now I have to award five other people. I have a very small circle and at least three of that group have already got the award. But I still have a good choice becuase it seems I move with the best in blogsville. So my awards go to:

Pat over at Past Imperfect: She has something to say and she says it with the utmost clarity. Having Pat on my sidebar is like having access to a very experienced guide to living.

Sam Problem Child Bride: Because she is just so cool. She has a very individual voice and it rings out loud and clear. I'm not saying I get it entirely but I have great fun trying.

Carole, whose Fractured Thoughts have a way of moving me to thought. She is self effacing, witty and very kind.

TIV at Postcards from Bloggerville: At this particular site (she has several) she groups together the words and pictures of other bloggers, thus saying something very powerful indeed. I have yet to explore her main blog the individual voice but now I have some time on my hands I can't wait to do so.

Lastly, but not, of course, leastly I have to give this award to Dr Maroon. This is because he is as mad as a box of poisoned frogs and will no doubt be a bit pissed with me for including him.

Oh, and I just want to say to the chosen five that you don't have to acknowledge this award if you don't want to. You don't have to give your top three tips for powerful writing. Just bask in the glory of being awarded. That should cheer up the good Doc!


Carole said...

'Embrace the shitty first draft. One of my tutors said this to me and I have since scrawled it on my wall. It reminds me not to hate myself for not being Peter Carey.'

This is my hardest thing. I usually think...Carole you are such an idiot. Give me 50 push-ups. And then I find out that if I revise a bit, I am only a numbskull. So I let it sit and revise some more and I then I am mediocre... and then I get sick of the whole bundle and pitch it. I do think I need to remember that some of my favorite authors didn't write their bestsellers in one sitting.

And thanks for the award. I am positively beaming.

Mary Witzl said...

I'm not the sort of person who always understands profound but simple pieces of advice like 'Write because you have something to say, not because you want to say something,' but this one makes perfect sense to me. It's such a temptation to hog the stage; to get up on one's hind legs and bray, instead of taking the time to craft one important, meaningful piece of work with courage, passion, and well-chosen words.

And how I love Peter Carey...

As for the award, I chose at random from more than twelve worthy candidates and hoped to God that the ones I DIDN'T give this to would get it from some of the ones I DID. To my delight, that has happened, so good for you and everybody else.

Now back to my pile of manure.

Eryl Shields said...

Carole ~ You are most welcome and deserving.

One of the best things about doing the course I'm doing is finding out just how many drafts some writers do. One of my favourite poets reckons he drafts a hundred times!!! The thing to do when you get sick of something is to put it away and come back to it later. I think it was Sydney who said that nine years was a good length of time for a work to incubate!

Mary ~ It always takes me a while to understand said pieces of advice. I have to confess to never being tempted onto the stage, far too terrified of those rotten tomatoes being hurled my way. But I know lots of people who just want to be heard even when they have nothing to say. I read a quote by someone somewhere recently that had me in stitches it was: 'I have nothing to say and I'm saying it.'

Courage, that's a good choice of words. You really do need it to keep crafting don't you?

PI said...

Eryl: congratulations - richly deserved and it is so kind of you to include me in your chosen five.I very much appreciate your words. One never tires of encouragement to say nothing of praise. It's all down to that little voice in my head without which I couldn't write.
You won't believe this but yesterday Kenju (Judy)awarded me this very same award so I had already accepted it. Some coincidence and I don't deserve it but I am very grateful. Now I've got to work out how to put it on my side bar.

Eryl Shields said...

Pat ~ Getting the same award twice from two different sources tells me that you really do deserve it.

I had to get Bob to put it on my side bar for me and he had a hell of a time with it. Blogger just wasn't playing last night!

TIV: the individual voice said...

I love this pithy list of three. And thank you for the award! It's purple! To tell you the truth, I've been eyeing this award as in makes its way through blogs I like, so I am very, very appreciative. Postcards is a fluke of a blog that just "evolved" and its possibilities seem endless.

Kim Ayres said...


You should know, even if your insecurities told you otherwise, that I would have happily awarded this to you (and Pat and Carole and Sam, and yes, probably even Dr Maroon) if I hadn't already handed you all the Rambling Beard Awards a few days before (and of course Mary if she hadn't already got one). So I'm delighted you finally received one and passed them on to the others I should have.

And don't worry about Doc. He will be as SMUG as they come about this award, but will be torn about admitting to it. He knows he shouldn't even acknowledge it, but he has a soft spot for you and won't want to let you down.

Eryl Shields said...

tiv ~ Glad you appreciate it. I've now had a look at your main blog and found you even more deserving.

Postcards is a brilliant idea, as revolutionary as it is evolutionary.

Kim ~ Thank you. That snarly old Doc doesn't worry me, soft spot you say eh...

Dr Maroon said...

Why am I last?

Nonetheless, I shall bask. I deserve it.

Dr Maroon said...

Kim is such a twat.

I wrote my comment above THEN read Kim's, above that. He thinks he's so smart.

BTW what were you doing up at half two in the mornin'?

Dr Maroon said...

where's the code for the picture?

Kim Ayres said...


Eryl Shields said...

Doc ~ like an aging crooner I always save the best til last.

I can't deal with daylight.


Kim ~ Is there something you need to tell me?

Sam, Problemchildbride said...

The fuck did my comment go? I typed out a lovely gracious acceptance somewhere. Gracious as all buggery it was!

What I wanted to say was very blimmin' cheers. I mean it. Thanks very much. You're lovely and I am dead chuffed to be numbered among these terrific bloggers.

Dammit, the last one was much better. I wonder where I posted that then...

Sam, Problemchildbride said...

I found it on my Notepad but had forgotten the crucial step of posting it. Here it was, just so's you know I don't have the manners of a mould and I did try to acknowledge this earlier.

Oooooooooh! Thank-you. This is lovely of you.

I agree with the others - you thoroughly deserve this award. We're all labouring in the word mines to some degree and your resolve, intelligence and curiosity has wrought some real gems. Your insights into the process are thoughtful and compelling and I feel, as I'm reading them, the weight of them.

You have such a natural and sensitive way with language. I've listened to that poem you put on Storytellers many times and envy the people that get to hear you read it live. Maybe one day we'll all get to meet.

Sam, Problemchildbride said...

Oh, and how do I put the wee badge on my sidebar? I think that's the code Docs was on about.

Eryl Shields said...

Sam ~ Code first so as not to forget, I got Bob to do it for me and he had a bugger of a job. He ended up having to save it to the computer and upload it from there. You should just be able to copy the html code though really. He says to tell you to go to the 'Shameless Lion's Writing Circle' which is where he got it from. It also tells you all about the origins of the award. Failing that, ask Kim who knows all about these things.

Now for your lovely, lost then found words:'labouring in the word mines'! that's exactly how I feel, so absolutely exactly. And thank you so much for your kind comments about my deserving.

As for your writing, I love your stories and the way you make the magical a part of every day existence. You have a way of freshening words. Like you've made sure they've washed behind their ears before you allow them in your sentences. And so this makes me think harder about the way I use them. So thanks for that.

Yes, maybe one day we will, that would be a good day.

Kim Ayres said...

I just enjoy guessing Doc's reactions to things then finding out I'm right. He loves it.

Carole said...

I feel like I am totally in the dark about this code business. It took me two seconds to put the picture on side bar without a code. Does a code make it better? I just right clicked on the picture. It asked me where I wanted to send it to. I said my docs. It sent it. Then I went to my blogger page element. Selected picture and voila...

Eryl Shields said...

Kim ~ You have a bad-boy streak.

Carole ~ I don't know about codes either. Sounds like you know much more about your computer than I do mine, I'm going to try it your way next time rather than calling Bob to do it all for me. But what's your 'docs'?

PI said...

I tried Carole's but it didn't work for me. I managed to copy it on to my post. Not sure how but putting it on my side- bar will have to wait for half-term.

Eryl Shields said...

That's one of the things I constantly find with computers Pat, sometimes I can just do something and then I can't again. I never quite know how I've managed to achieve some things. I'm sure there is a logic to it all but I can't for the life of me ascertain it.