How do we write? And, importantly, where do we write? Each of the Elwood Writers has their own method, quirky or disciplined. Some are methodical, setting aside regular precious hours to pen papers, while others wait for inspiration to strike and write ‘off the hoof’ – and that would be me. I find Place particularly important – ideas and images come randomly; when I’m out walking, in the middle of a busy cafe, or regularly at 4 am. It’s handy to have a notebook or even a smartphone to capture those fleeting thoughts. It can be a chaotic process.
I write poetry and have just returned from a wonderful, enriching two weeks in Japan, the spiritual home of haiku. Never was a sense of place more powerful to me than being in the land of the rising sun during both Sakura – the spring cherry blossom season – and the last of the winter snowfalls.
Finding myself mentally free from the entrapments of daily chores and routine, I felt creatively open to these unique sensory experiences. In Kyoto I visited the 17th century home of Mukai Kyorai, the great haiku master Basho’s most famous disciple. I even dared to write a Sakura haiku and post it in the dedicated haiku letterbox. The timing was serendipitous, as it was close to International Haiku Day.
Where I live in country Victoria we have a monthly poetry-reading afternoon, Chamber Poets. In the very week when I was trudging through four inches of snow on a mountain pass on the ancient Nakasendo Way, my haiku, which seemed to spring effortlessly into my head day after day, were being read aloud at Chamber Poets as that important day was celebrated. The joy for me was in being able to relay that wondrous sense of place to my fellow poets so many thousands of kilometres away.
Earlier in March I had the privilege of being the featured poet at Chamber Poets. Our meetings are held in the local RSL (Returned Servicemen’s League) Club. I read a short memoir piece about my English grandfather’s experiences in the trenches as a 17-year-old foot soldier in World War 1, and I was both comforted and overwhelmed to share his history in that most appropriate of places.
Poetry and place; the words bind us, wherever we are.
Scrivener is a project management system for writers. You can access it easily on the Internet and it all seems pretty generous: 30 days free trial and those are not consecutive days, but the days you actually use the package.
I heard about it a couple of years ago when a couple of IT focussed guys at work raved about it as a way to write their novels. A story went around that the designer of Scrivener was writing a novel, but Scrivener itself was so successful that he abandoned his novel and lived off the proceeds of his software package. Full of scepticism, I downloaded the package and started to do the introductory tutorial. I persisted for about half an hour, then the ‘instructor’ announced something like, that’s the first part, now go and get yourself a cup of tea . . . This isn’t for me, I thought. I closed everything down and went back to using Word, keeping my work in folders, all embedded in a folder called ‘Writing’. Sometime last year I went to a workshop given by Toni Jordan – a writer I admire very much. She is very keen about Scrivener. If she uses it, I thought, I’d better give it another try. Writers’ Victoria advertised a workshop on Scrivener to be delivered by writer Alison Stuart. I gritted my teeth and enrolled. I took the workshop.
At the end of the full day workshop, I’m still not sure whether I will use it. I’ve got an idea for a novel-sized book and used that as a kind of ‘guinea pig’. I had a new thought about it this morning and went to the newly-created Scrivener file to make a note about it. That’s a good sign. But I still feel very constrained: you start with a Binder (like a big ring-binder folder) and in this you create whatever section you like, but if you’ve opted for ‘fiction’ you get choices such as ‘characters’ and ‘scene’. There’s an editing option (where you write stuff) and an Information section where you can store all the support material. I use old photographs a lot, you could also have pdfs of old newspapers, cartoons . . . whatever. It will be useful to be able to have a split screen and write with this stimulus material next to the prose you are creating.
Writers are described as either Plotters (plan it all out first) or Pantsers (write off the seat of your pants). I’m a Pantser. The book that I’ve just (perhaps) finished started when I looked at an old photograph and grew with loads of twists, turns, diversions into 90,000 words. I think I’d have to regurgitate a first draft in Word and then sort it all out with Scrivener. Yet – I did go to Scrivener this morning when I had a new idea. So, I’m still thinking about it.
I can see that Scrivener would be excellent for writing non-fiction: you could keep interviews, notes, articles right next to you as you write. It would also be good for a detective story – easy to keep track of clues. And the only way to learn about such a package is to use it – so I’ll give it a try, for 30 days, at least.
I write in my journal every morning for forty minutes, or I try to. My first writing teacher, Kim Trengove, was a fan of Julia Cameron’s book, The Artists Way. Cameron recommends the ‘Morning Pages’ as a way of ridding your mind of the dross, and helping you uncover your real thoughts and feelings. Journaling also helps develop the ‘writing muscle’.
In writing memoir, the ‘pages’ help me drill down to my hidden beliefs, and uncover any fear being them. In clearing my mind of daily minutiae, I am better able to discover what actually lies there. Mentor, Kaylie Jones, says memoir is about creating the ‘eye’ that watches the “I”.
As I learn to detach, ironically I can go deeper into what I am most afraid to write, find a way to express it, and allow a structure or at least a pattern to emerge. Miles Davis once said: “You have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” This is true for me. It takes me a long time to learn to write like myself; a long time to find my own voice. But any glimmer of that individuality emerging is well worth the effort. For in the single story, they say, lives the universal.