What’s Your Pencil?

Image result for sharpened pencil

I will accept that my title looks grammatically incorrect; or at least like I’ve managed to forget a word. Bear with me, though, I really do mean what I’ve said (typed). 

A few months ago, I was sitting, having a work-related conversation with the wonderfully talented and always exuberant Phil Kingston. Within minutes, we realised that we were both Lamy fans. I explained that, because my writing is the way it is (small, not exactly artistic),  I require an extra-fine nib in order to render what I write legible. I handed my instrument to him, and Phil wrote a few lines with it. He quickly agreed with me that it was a beautiful writer, and we had a most pleasant chat about pens, and writing, and choosing an instrument.

 

I mentioned that I habitually use a fountain pen, except for my Morning Pages , which – for some reason – I choose to write on yellow legal pads in pencil. And, yes, I’m as particular about my pencils as I am about my pens. The one I favour for my Morning Pages is a beauty that is a black 4B that I got in the Science Gallery a while ago. It is just the write blend of soft and dark for me: Not so soft that it smudges easily, and not so hard that it writes too faintly.  

 

As Phil and I continued our chat, we mused about how our respective upbringings had influenced our choice of writing instruments. In the middle of all this, I suddenly realised something, and shared it with him. I’d been brought up in poverty by an abusive (psychopathic) father and a narcissistic mother.  I’d always loved writing – not just the intellectual, or creative, or academic element of it – but the actual, physical element of it as well.  As a young writer of about four, I remember bringing my pencil to my mother to be pared. She refused. There was ‘still plenty of writin’ left in it’, she had declared. Any time I wanted to sharpen my pencil, she would admonish me, and tell me I was being wasteful – which was a sin! – and I was to use the pencil until it was no longer possible to write with it.  

 

Of course, I internalised this message, and carried it with me into adulthood. It took until last August before I realised that I it didn’t serve me to believe that I was only ‘allowed’ to pare my pencils when their points were beyond usability. When I realised that I no longer needed to hold to that ancient belief, I abandoned it immediately. Since then, I have sharpened my pencil every time I have felt it necessary; I have allowed myself the tactile pleasure of using a pencil at its optimum point. It is bliss. Joyful, delightful, pleasurable.  

 

It’s a small thing – sharpening my pencil every time I want to, so it always feels good when I’m using it – but it has made me examine other habits and attitudes that were foisted on me by others, and which don’t serve me. I feel liberated beyond what might seem rational by this one small thing. 

 

So it’s really not an error when I ask  – ‘What’s your Pencil?’ What is the old belief or habit that you’re hanging on to that is not serving you, and is not aligned with what you want, and deserve, for yourself?

 

 

 

Don’t (Just) Write What You Know

Typewriter

 

Writers who are starting out are encouraged to write what they know. They are told that such an approach will lend an air of authenticity to their words, and will somehow be ‘easier’.  It’s good advice, but it’s not great advice.

Rather than write what you know, write what’s important.

Research goes hand-in-hand with writing. If you’re a writer, you’re also a reader. You are also a researcher. You are the kind of person who can find stuff out – by talking to people, by networking, by using libraries, by asking questions.

 

No matter your genre, if you only write what you know, you’ll only write one book. You might publish several, but they will all be about the same thing, and get repetitive. The only way to grow as a writer, and to keep yourself and your readers happy, is to stretch yourself. The only way you can do that is by finding out about things you don’t know about, and writing about them in the way that only you can.

 

What annoys you? What intrigues you? What upsets you? What issue would you like to see highlighted? Write about that.  Find the thing that fires you, that excites extremes of passion in you, and write about that.  If you feel you’re not enough of an ‘expert’ on it, become one – or become enough of one to write authentically about it.

Then write. You’ll be following the advice of ‘writing what you know’, but you’ll be writing about what you know now,  rather than what you’ve always known. You’re writing will, then, always be fresh, always ‘new’. It will keep you engaged, and be engaging for your readers.

The A to Z April Challenge

SAAM

Over on my other blog (hazelkatherinelarkin), I’ve joined in on the A to Z Blogging Challenge. The idea is to take a theme and blog it through the month of April, working your way through the alphabet while you’re at it.

 

Given that it’s also Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I’ve decided to marry the two and will be blogging an A to Z of sexual assault for the month of April.

 

If you’re interested, you can find the first post here:  http://wp.me/s6sNwP-abuse

NaNoWriMo Update

Well, it’s November 25th and you may remember that, all gung-ho, and full of vim and vigour, I announced my participation in the NaNoWriMo project twenty-three days ago.

The premise is simple; glue your butt to your chair for an extended period every day during the month of November and produce 50,000 words at the end. You will then have the bones of a book that you can work on and edit to your heart’s content and try to shape it into an actual book that you can bring to market. Like most things worth their salt, NaNoWriMo has its detractors: Some writers claim that  it’s difficult to work like this, ‘churning out’ 2.000 words a day every day on average on one project. Others heave a sigh of relief when November comes around, safe in the knowledge that the support of the project will motivate them to get some words on a page. Still others see it as a month of indulgence to  write on a pet project, or try out a new genre – one they have never fiddled with before.

I approached NaNoWriMo with a project I’ve been wanting to work on for quite a while. I was really excited to try my hand at a bit of fiction. I’ve done a bit of plotting, I’ve gotten to know a little bit about some of my characters, I have a few set-ups for them and I have scenes written (in my head only, mind!) that had me crying in the shower as I felt the emotions of the characters involved and put words in their mouths and hearts.

So, I sat down, committed to writing my socks off and producing the required 50,000 at the end of this month.

Didn’t happen.

I have about 7,000 words of my book written. Look, it’s 7,000 words more than I had a few weeks ago, but I’m not going to nail NaNoWriMo this year. I’m not even going to start on the whys and wherefores of why I have so little done. I’m neither ashamed nor embarrassed by my lack of wordage. NaNoWriMo has served me well; I have spend the month thinking about my writing – thinking about what I want to write, what I want to focus on, what really matters. I’ve formulating a good, solid plan not just for the book I’ve written and am ready to market, but about the next one, the one after that and the spin-off work that could come from it if I market it properly.  I have looked long and hard at self-publishing rather than going the traditional route and have not decided against either (yet!). I’ve changed focus and looked at the bigger picture, the long-term and asked myself serious questions about where I want my writing to take me and what I want it to do – the purpose of it, if you will.

I’ve also been writing a bit more than usual – and remembering the joy I get from writing, how easy it comes to me if I just let it, how good it feels to structure a sentence that says exactly what I want it to and how the flow of words from brain to fingertips feels as good to me as a run in perfect weather feels to a professional runner: The exhilaration, the triumph, the purification of the exercise that release endorphins and spur you on to do more, to do it again, to keep going.

So, the end of November will come and go, and I will not be a NaNoWriMo winner. Except, in a roundabout way, I will. I’ll have a course plotted, a strategy devised and a much clearer picture of who I am as a writer. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a win.

NaNoWriMo 2014

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – turns 15 this year. I did it for the first time back in 2004. Actually, I started it in 2004. I didn’t make it across the finish line. In hindsight, it was gloriously optimistic of me: I had just (a few weeks beforehand) moved continent and ended up in a place I hate; I had a five month-old and a two-and-a-half year old and no practical or emotional support with raising them, and I was trying hard to figure out what my Next Move would be.

So I got to about 10,000 words and left it.

This year, I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo again. NaNoWriMo has changed in the intervening ten years. It’s now a very sophisticated affair – a slick website with FAQs, forums, discussion boards and lots, lots more. I’ve signed up because, to write consistently on a specific project, I need a prod. I’ve discovered that much about myself in all these years of writing. Whether that prod is the deadline imposed by a TV studio, a magazine or newspaper editor or a conference organiser. Or even a friend.

I wrote the first draft of my memoir with the prodding of a friend – who happened to be a newspaper editor – in India. We had a deal that I would write a minimum of 500 words a day and email them to him. If he didn’t get the words, he’d ring me to find out where they were. The strategy worked. Not least because there is a five-and-a-half hour time difference between here and India and if I didn’t turn in my words, I’d get a call at Stupid O’Clock to ask me where they were.

That book got written because I committed to writing a minimum of 500 words a day – because 500 words is easy; it’s doable. I set out to write 500 words a day, but often wrote 3,000. If I’d set myself a target of 2,000 words a day, I doubt I’d have lasted a week.

There’s an idea for a novel that has been rattling around inside me for more than two years now. Some days, I feel that if I don’t sit down and write it, I will wake up some morning and it will have written itself on my skin from the inside out. So that’s my NaNoWriMo project for this year.

I was exhausted yesterday after just 3 hours’ sleep the night before, and was sorely tempted not to write – to put it off until ‘tomorrow’. But I’ve got a writing buddy this time around. A real-life, real-world friend who has signed up as well – and there was the prod I needed. For extra pressure, Kashmira (who is not quite ten and a half) has signed up as well and she got off to a cracking start yesterday.

So I knuckled down and wrote a modest 1,123 words. I’ve started. I’ll let you know if I finish.

If you’d like to join the madness (it’s not too late!), you can sign up here.