Friday, 13 April 2012

Messiness! Accessing my Imagination.

I'm afraid of being messy. Not so much in general, though I have recently decluttered and found homes for all my books. No, I'm afraid of producing messy first drafts.

I want to write messy drafts. I want to let my imagination run free and produce possibilities that would never emerge if I had a precise plan. However, the perfectionist part of me is afraid of not having a plan and afraid of giving my imagination freedom. Sure, she'll let me insert the odd crazy idea, but not a whole draft that spreads out and splatters characters everywhere.

My best work seems to develop when I'm not thinking through every sentence as soon as I write it. Impromptu exercises often spark more ideas than hours of agonising. Freewriting produces gems amongst the drivel. However, these methods can be difficult to get into; I have trouble letting go of the perfectionist who whines 'wouldn't this time be better spent on actually writing stories?'

So how do I access this messy tangle of thoughts?

1. Get into a character's head.
Or several characters' heads. I find this quite easy - I'm not sure why - and being in someone else's head means my perfectionist isn't allowed to pop up. I just freewrite whatever's on the character's mind and something interesting usually pops up. If not, I move onto the next character.

2. Form a 'play chain'.
I let my imagination run free when I was a kid, especially when playing. Nothing was an obstacle, because I could just pretend. A 'play chain' is that list of possibilities quickly succeeding each other that crops up when kids play: 'this box is a ship... in the middle of a storm... on Mars... and there's a hole in the bottom...'

It builds up like a tidal wave until it becomes something exciting for everyone involved. As an adult, I form 'play chains' simply by thinking up possibilities and refusing to discard any. Then I consider what opportunities are presented by these possibilities, and so on.

3. Pick n mix.
Not the sweets - though I find them hard to resist! Pick n mix is simply writing loads of stuff on little bits of paper and picking some out. There are hundreds (if not more) versions of this exercise, with varying rules. For instance, some say you have to choose a profession (doctor/lawyer/teacher/dog trainer), a setting (churchyard/shop/beach/airport) and  type of interaction (argument/stealing from someone/helping someone/flirting).

I prefer an unstructured approach because fewer rules can result in more possibilities. I write anything that pops into my head - pieces of furniture, types of food, personality traits, emotions, ages, historical periods, types of transport, names, passionate actions (kiss/slap/protest), genres... Whatever. I pick out at least 3, usually around 5. Then I have to come up with an idea to combine them - however ridiculous, my job is to make it work. If the results are too banal and generic, I pick a couple more pieces of paper.

In many ways, it's a puzzle: I have to form the linking idea/plot and then I have to turn it into a believable story. Even when I fail, this exercise encourages me to explore more possibilities. Maybe I can't combine a prostitute, a cheerleader, a desert and a chocolate bar. But thinking about it might result in a story about how a cheerleader copes when a holiday goes wrong and she gets lost in the desert, or a prostitute who accepts chocolate as payment!

How do you let your imagination run free and produce messy drafts full of fun and promise?

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Sunshine Award!

Thanks to Joanne Fox (well, actually Harvey!) at A Zigzag Road for tagging me and topping up my sunshiney springtime mood despite the rain. I now have to tell you what makes me happy, so here goes...

1. Roxie, my English Springer Spaniel. She'll be 9 in September, I got her as a 6 week old puppy (weaned early because she's one of 10!) and I love her more than ever. She's the sweetest dog I've ever met and loves cuddles. She regularly gets beaten up by the cat and when she was a puppy, ate many things off people's plates when they weren't looking (and often when they were - she's quick) - including the tops of sandwichs, a slice of pizza and a chocolate eclair.

2. Chocolate. Do I really have to explain this?! I love a variety of chocolates, from Hotel Chocolate champagne truffles and kirsch-soaked cherries, to Cadbury's fruit and nut, to the vanilla yumminess of Green and Black's white chocolate... I could go on, but it's making me hungry!

3. My friends. Especially on girly nights when we eat, drink and chatter for hours! They're very supportive and encouraging, but also great fun and hilarious. I don't know what I'd do without them.

4. Shoes! A bit of an obsession, I'm afraid. I have a penchant for designer shoes, despite not really being able to afford them, and can spend hours drooling over websites that sell them. I bought my first pair after a £50 pair of shoes were ruined after just a day's wear at a wedding.

I figured that wearing a £350 pair at least 7 times would work out costing the same, only designer shoes tend to be much better made and ought to last for years. Several years after that first purchase, I still believe I'm right and find designer shoes more comfortable than cheaper ones. Of course, I can only afford one pair a year at the most, so I have a very small collection.

Previously, I would buy loads of shoes in a year so it's also saving me space! See how I make excuses? I don't know why I feel I have to apologise: other people spend lots on technology, jewellery, going out, holidays, etc. and I prefer shoes. I love the way they look, feel and even smell. I plan outfits around them. I fantasise about designing them myself and having a collection that would make Imelda Marcos's look modest. Maybe it's becoming a fetish...

5. Baking. I'm a bit of a foodie, though I'd never consider working in the industry (too stressful!), and love making cakes more than anything else. I also love seeing people eating the cakes and enjoying them. Oh, and eating them myself!

6. Books. Not just reading - I love looking at them, feeling them, smelling them... Maybe I also have a book fetish! I've always considered books magical and a vital part of my life. I've kept all of my favourite books from my childhood and love to share my love of reading with people. My friends have a 4 month old baby girl and I've already elected myself as her Champion of Books!

7. Film. I graduated with a BA in Film Studies last year and love both films themselves and film theory/criticism. There's something magical about film and its potential to bring people together. I love its richness: the combination of story, sound, mise-en-scene, costume, framing, lighting, editing... The sheer amount of work that goes into a film is incredible. Like good books, good films reveal more layers during subsequent viewings and allow you to engage with them in different ways.

I don't like typical Hollywood blockbusters. I love it when special effects enhance a story, as in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but have little time for films whose main appeal is big explosions in 3D. I like a lot of older films, such as screwball comedies from the 1930s and 40s; plenty of indie dramas; slasher horrors; original romantic comedies; good thrillers, especially Hitchcock ones; a lot of French New Wave Cinema; Woody Allen comedies... I suppose my tastes are eclectic, but I judge films on whether I think they're good as opposed to whether they're a certain genre or feature a particular actor.

I could go on, but 7 is a good number and I'm sure what I've written has already sent some people to sleep! I don't have time to check who has already been tagged, so I won't tag anyone but invite you to tag yourself in a comment if you fancy a go. Just copy and paste the pic, then tell me what makes you happy!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A Springy Feeling!

I love spring. Mainly because I adore summer and spring reminds me summer is on its way! As I said in my last post, I'm trying to adopt a more relaxed approach to writing (and life). In keeping with this, I spent much of last week sunbathing and reading in the garden.

I also seem to be in the mood for spring cleaning. I suppose now I've finished seminars, it's natural to not only file away all my notes, but to take stock and tidy up. This involved me reorganising my books yesterday, so I could put away recently-acquired books. I disturbed an astonishing amount of dust. I berated myself for having so many books and made a half-hearted resolution to buy no more until I've read all of the books I own. I also realised that if Devon is ever struck by an earthquake strong enough to shake books off shelves, I could be in trouble. The next phase is sorting out my vast piles of magazines...

The biggest surprise, however, is I'm making good progress with my writing. Nothing dramatic, but the ideas are flowing and I keep working on my WIPs. Obviously, I hoped this would happen. I'm just surprised to be progressing without pressuring myself with mini-deadlines.

So I'm enjoying the clement (though cooler than last week) weather and the young birds squabbling on the roof. I'm enjoying reading whatever takes my fancy. And I'm enjoying feeling relatively relaxed and productive :-)