Robert Lipscombe
a writer doing his job

 

 

The Real Otto Baxter
play
2013
Some Vicious Mole
novel The Salamander Tree
novel
1990 Cometh The Day
novel The Triumph of Val Fribbins
novel Mkwakwe
novel
The Teddy Bear Consultant
novel The English Project
novel (in a newspaper)
2014 I was a tutor and lecturer in creative writing for 6 years at Lambeth College (FE) in London. I have also worked with The Oxford Editors on a few occasions. I can offer solid advice and tuition on structure, style, voice and tone, characterisation and dialogue, pace, plotting, readability and overall gestalt. A six week course in the above for individuals or groups is also available. Rates are of course negotiable and flexible. My first novel The Salamander Tree was published by Hamish Hamilton and was described by my then literary agent Caradoc King (A.P.Watt) as the best first novel he had read in years. My creative writing book will be available online this autumn. In today's world there is no telling where the next big seller is coming from. Circumstances and a chance encounter may give you a book to die for, but it will still require a degree of writerly skill. And it will need shape, energy and show business appeal. It's a complex equation and the variables are you, your environments, public expectations, the ability to write and that little indefinable extra something - call it pure luck. More about that in the autumn.. but if you want to start now, I will be glad to hear from you. If you are interested please don't hesitate to email me.  also on this page How to write a short novel in 12 weeks
How can you tell if you are a writer
Meditations on creative writing
Bookshop bestiary
HOW TO WRITE A SHORT NOVEL IN 12 WEEKS
WEEK 1: GETTING STARTED.
originally published on hubpages.com You feel you have something you want to say, or maybe you don’t; either way you want to write a short novel [50-70,000 words]. We have 12 weeks which requires an average weekly word count of 5,000 words, which is an average daily word count of approx 715 words, yes, that’s just 715 words every single day for 84 days. Now it takes just a little time [5 or 6 minutes] to calmly speak about 700 words at a moderate to normal speed. This should give you an idea of the ball park. You will need a dictaphone and a couple of hours to yourself each day. A little bit of talent would not go amiss but talent will accrue. Most of the work will be done while you are doing something else [something which has a low concentration factor so you can really think about your novel while you are doing this other task]. This is where the dictaphone comes in. You can talk into it as and when the ideas come, while doing something else. You will also need to be able to type, and you will need to have access to a word processor. It is envisaged that you will use the dictaphone to capture your thoughts as they come to you, and you will need the word processor for actually writing them down in a sequence and with sufficient editing appropriate to the developing story line. Of course you don’t have to have a Dictaphone, but it is so much easier than writing notes – often the ideas will come swiftly in a torrent, and the actual words will fade on the air within a few seconds. You will need to be ready. Now, if you are ready, with dictaphone to hand, we can begin. Step 1 [finding a character for your novella] Relax. Yes, that’s right, that’s the first thing to do now. Relax your mind [think of good moments you’ve had in your life] and relax your body [either stand without tension in any muscles, or sit, or lie down if you can – but don’t go to sleep]. It's usually a good idea to have a warm bath. The point of relaxation, of course, is to let the body give up its truths, its feelings, its unresolved tensions, which always relate to character, in a setting, in a situation. The pounding rhythm of a run will do it, or the easy soak in warm water is the more luxurious option. The thing to remember is your novel begins in your own musculature; in the very fibres of your nervous system your novel already is. We need to sieve it out, as it were, from the flow of the time, from the well of the self. Now, listen. Listen inside yourself for the sound of your first character [you may well hear a sentence spoken, perhaps a shout or a call – pay attention to the intonation, the emotion contained in the sound, record the words you hear said]. Look inside yourself for a glimpse of that person [pay attention to background]. Feel inside yourself for the emotions of that person. Now welcome that person into your book. If nothing happened it is because you were either not relaxed or because you have no overriding preoccupation, in which case you must try again, or be ready to contrive your first character, top down, from theory alone. Theory for contriving your first character by formulaic thought or: How to invent/contrive a character when you have no preoccupations The basic principle of character in the world of fiction is imbalance; all the most interesting characters have an imbalance in their virtues and or vices such that one particular tendency becomes apparent and begins to play the part of the rudder in the everyday flow of life. Macbeth was uxorious [too easily swayed by his wife] and ambitious or power-hungry; King Lear was vain to the point of needing to test the validity of his inflated self-image by toying with people and properties [his daughters and his holdings]; Holden Caulfield was obsessed with being authentic. Of course the imbalance does not need to be psychological primarily; typically it can be an advantage/disadvantage of birth – Oedipus was born the son of a king but was left to die on a hillside; Lebowski [the rich man who had the wayward young wife in the Coen Brothers movie] was confined to a wheelchair and suffered from feelings of impotency which made him dismissive of relaxed, easy-going non-achievers; Forrest Gump was simple-minded. However, always, always character in fiction is rooted in imbalance resulting in the throwing into relief of one particular salient feature or tendency - which could be physical [of the body], psychological [of the mind], existential [the kid whose mum or dad is an alcoholic], economic, political or spiritual. So if you would contrive a character on the basis of the formula alone, here is the formula: character = imbalance x [opportunity or liability] NB it’s worth bearing in mind right from the start that character in a fiction always has a trajectory ie it moves through a situation into a new level of awareness or definition. Indeed, in a novella as in a novel, nothing stays the same, although smart readers will already have noted that some things obviously change very little otherwise there would be no precision, nothing to focus on, no established meaning at all. This is because a character should reflect its environments; this is partly because the character’s environments define it and give it meaning. Also, note the presence of ‘opportunity’ or ‘liability’ in the formula. This means that pressures or attractive forces in the environment of your character cause the particular tendency in question to become more and more fatefully important and significant in the decisions taken by your character as your story develops [see Step 2 below to understand this more clearly]. Bear in mind too that quite often your first character comes in place of somebody else, somebody who will emerge in due course and may prove to be the really important one; sometimes you will think you love your first character only to grow quickly tired of them. You might have to do the Step 1 exercise again and again. You may find that you have already acquired a few characters, none of which particularly grabs you, in which case we know we are ready to move on to the next step because sometimes a character is not properly born until its environments are determined [remember, characters draw definition and meaning from their environments – it is even possible to construct a character out of a set of environments.. more on that later, though]. Step 2 looks at the key question of a character’s environments. So, here we are at the beginning of the second step in the first instalment of our program. At this moment you either have a character you feel you can work with, or you cannot find such a one. Let us now begin Step 2 in the process of writing your novella in 12 weeks. If you have not yet found a character you can work with, don’t worry. Work with what you have got, for the moment. Time will tell. Step 2 placing your character in distinct environments] Relax. Yes, that’s the thing to do now, just as in Step 1. And now, place your character in each of the following existential environments [EE] in turn: a social environment [friends, gatherings, school, on the bus, at the gym, at work] a cultural environment [maybe a wedding, or a party at work, or a church service, or a work committee, or a parents’ evening, a yoga/dance/art class – the point being, there are rules to be followed and to be broken, rules as to how to behave, what to say, what to do and in what way] an emotional environment [some people or situation your character loves or hates, or someone who hates or loves your character] an economic environment [where there is money being earned and spent, lost, looked for, prayed for, needed, wasted] a physical environment [two aspects here: the geographical location – mountains, by the sea, the inner city, the suburbs, the countryside, the wilderness; and secondly the bodies of your character and those around your character..blemishes, defects, disabilities and all] a spiritual environment [church, the mosque, a bible study group, at prayer, in a haunted house..] NB What you are looking for is environments in which your character comes to life, has things to say, to do, to dream, to hope for, fight for, to fight against. These are Lively Environments. [LE] You are also looking for environments in which your character is devoid of the above, called Null Environments [NE]. Lively and Null Environments are the binary factors of your character’s environments. They are vitally important for your book. They will give your storyline vitality, energy, reality. And now let us move on to… Step 3 [the first interlude] Pick up your dictaphone and put your character into one of the lively environments. Now have your character tell you aloud, or you can tell the dictaphone aloud, an interlude in that LE. An interlude is a sort of fractal which is to say it is a tiny story within the larger story, but of course it is unresolved. It is a segment or fragment of a story within the story and it may very well have the same logical, existential or emotional form as the overall story [in which case it is a true fractal, or more likely it will be a variation on the overall story]. Your life to date should be bursting with interludes, basically - the little or sometimes big things that happen to me. Here are some interludes [without, of course, the benefit of the overall story]: what your character heard his mother say at breakfast that morning and how it affected your character during the ensuing hours of that day; the arrival of the draft papers that morning and the conflicting reactions of mum and dad; the girl does a pregnancy test in the bathroom and discovers that she is pregnant you wake up to discover that your car has been stolen/vandalised today is the big exam/interview day and you haven’t slept a wink so you’re scrabbling through your notes, trying to get yourself ready Step 4 [a setting] Now every interlude that ever was had a setting – even a dream interlude, although what makes a dream interlude peculiar is the imprecise dreamlike nature of the setting, which is to say it is usually impossible to recognise as being a specific place at a specific time. A setting is a specific place at a specific time and it immediately becomes an EE [see Step 2 above]. You are going to need a setting, and your EE should be an LE, ideally, if you want to grip your reader early on. And this is where we face the first real test of writing, because you are going to have to communicate the setting by means of words alone, which means you are going to have to get descriptive in an effective way. You need to grip the reader’s attention either because your setting is so true to life generally that your reader will be hypnotised, or because your setting is so unusual and well-contrived that your reader is fascinated and wants to find out more about it. Once you have a setting we will be putting your character into a situation. That will be for WEEK 2. Right now, and to finish up for today, we need to look at how to describe your setting. Here are the basic points you will need to keep in mind as you describe your setting. 1. Remember to be different from a computer, by which I mean to say this: a computer program could describe a setting for your novel, but the words would have a lack of feeling, a deadness about them and this would repel your reader. So, in order to be different from a computer you MUST hold an attitude, and an emotional content as you think about/imagine and put words to your setting. At this stage it doesn’t matter very much which particular attitude you have, but attitude and emotional content you must have. 2. Choose details which fit your attitude; so if you are writing a comic novella, your attitude will be laughter-based, laughter-seeking and laughter-inducing. In this case you will select details to present to your reader which satisfy those requirements. If you are writing a piece of romantic fiction which will tell a love story, you will have an attitude of amorous, romantic desire, and this will guide the details you present to your reader. 3. Less is more. Use as few words as possible to communicate your setting in the way that suits your attitude. It is easier to add words later than to take words away. END OF WEEK 1… good luck with your beginnings. Watch this space.
week 2
You should by now have some characters [at least one] talking about an interlude in their life in a lively existential environment; or at least you will have a null environment in which your character is numb and has little to say [not a good idea to start with this one!]. We will deal with style, voice and tone next week, so just for now let us concentrate on quantity of output. We will need this week to identify the situation which your character will find him or herself in as a result of the setting [see Week 1] and the existential environments specific to that character and that setting. The situation [see below] is a problem which a character faces in his environments [for more on environments, see Week 1]; the problem is a problem just because and in that the character’s personal agenda is either curbed or threatened by something or someone which is a product of his environments and the impact of this something or someone is such that the character must either deal with it [overcome it, or negotiate and compromise with it] or in some sense die. The threat of personal demise, in some sense [perhaps physical (thrillers, crime fiction, war stories including epics) perhaps spiritual or psychological (the coming of age novel, the Bildungsroman eg Catcher in the Rye), perhaps economic or romantic or social] is the fundamental feature of the situation, always. Furthermore, the situation will always be true to the genre of the story, as for example, in a love story - the situation will obviously involve the romantic threat of losing/failing to win the loved one (in face of a rival, or a false rumour, or sometimes some kind of attack eg disease). 1. Situation Most people with an interest in writing are well acquainted with the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare so let’s consider young Prince Hamlet’s situation and see how it is a product of his setting, his existential, political, cultural etc environments and an additional factor [in this instance] The setting is the Castle at Elsinore where Prince Hamlet grew up with his loving father, the old King Hamlet [now deceased], and his mother, the Queen Gertrude [now married to Prince Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius]. Prince Hamlet, now a student, was entertained by the fool and child companion Yorick [also long since deceased] when he was a lad. [How to describe the setting? We will come to this in Week 3] Hamlet’s situation is that his Uncle Claudius has married his mother and now wears his father’s crown [which Hamlet would have inherited if Claudius had not inserted himself]. This is bad enough, but the whole thing is made infinitely worse by the fact that the castle is being haunted by a ghost - and not just any ghost but a ghost which purports to be Prince Hamlet’s deceased father the old King Hamlet, who tells Prince Hamlet that he was murdered and that his murderer is the man who now bears his crown. The ghost demands that Prince Hamlet exact revenge. Formula: Ongoing story/evolving and ultimately resolving situation = E[n] x PE[..n] where E stands for environments which wrap around your character and his adversary or antagonist, even if this is only some other part of himself and PE stands for personal agenda; in each case the bracketed n indicates a range - either of environments [as in physical, psychological, existential, emotional, cultural, social, economic, political environment] or of personal agenda holders [ie characters with motives] So, in what ways then do we have the formulaic collision between environment and personal agenda in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’ ? Well, here is an evolving situation if ever there was one and it is clear to see how it is a product of Hamlet’s environments and his own, his mother’s, his deceased father’s, and not least his uncle’s agendas. - You can see that it is the product of his political, cultural and existential and emotional environments [noble birth, regal castle, still sexually active and needy queen] that he now has to face a murderous usurper to his rightful throne. - You can see that his involvement with the intellectual world has made him thoughtful and considered in action, much more inclined to philosophise than to draw blood. - You can see that psychologically he is very disturbed by his mother’s speedy remarriage [for a number of reasons]. - You can see that he has an excellent friend [the one truly positive aspect of his social environment], Horatio, who will support him and bear witness for him whenever necessary. We also have the cultural environment, where everybody, apparently, tends to drink a lot, there is a tendency for spying to be encouraged and where young ladies at court are discouraged from getting to close to princes for fear of losing their maidenhood and their more realistic marriage chances. And there is one other important aspect of his social, cultural and princely environment, namely Polonius, the former adviser to King Hamlet and now chief counsellor to Claudius. Polonius has a daughter, Ophelia, who is possibly in love with Prince Hamlet, and certainly he seems to take a lively interest in her. Prince Hamlet's personal agenda, we must assume, contains the following priorities: to become King of Denmark, rightfully; to have a loving relationship with a woman [Hamlet is apparently but problematically heterosexual]; to resolve his sub-Oedipal issues with his mother; to be an up-to-date intelligent and thoughtful person who eschews violence and the old way of doing things; to see his late father honoured and revenged; in short: to be a model of a man. This then is his situation, where aspects of his environments are coming into collision with his personal agenda. Another way of looking at this is to say that other characters in his environments have agendas which come into collision with his own. This is the essence of situation and will be the core of your novel. The novella functions in two ways: 1. to establish the setting in which the situation is then unfolded and responses to the situation are played out, leading ultimately to resolution and/or demise... 2. to establish meaningful and resonant connections, parallels, similarities, harmonics with the outside world, the public world which the writer and reader share with everybody else in his or her culture. This second element is called ramification Writing a novella involves two modes of writing: unfolding [basically telling the story]; and ramification. Now it is time for you to discover and develop the situation which best befits your character, given his or her existential environments. Aids to situation development To help you to do this you should answer the following questions: which environment means most to your character [eg Prince Hamlet’s emotional environment – his relationship with his mother and father (and perhaps too his relationship with Ophelia) – was probably his most cherished one]? which environment has the most involvements with other important environments for your characters, which is to say, has the most links? [richness of meaning within the story] which environment has the most resonance with the wider culture in which you live? [this means: consider the overall state of your national culture and see if you can find an issue which is currently important and unresolved..does this real world own-culture issue sit well with any of the environments of your character, either adding more detail to the national issue or coming some way to resolving it?]? This of course is the ramification factor. which of your character’s environments interests you most? This will give you the greatest possible degree of energic involvement in the writing, leading, we hope, to more lively, more fathoming generally more interesting content. The thing to remember is this: the situation which grips your character should be resonant [it should ideally mean something to a lot of people]; it should be rich in the way it affects the agenda [motivations] of your character nd involves others. Finding no ice cream in the freezer could only be rich in the story sense if the character in question was a Jekyll and Hyde character who turned into a murderer if he didn’t get his ice cream dose every hour…and if you want to make his situation more pointed: his girlfriend is alone with him in the house. 2. Now it’s time to put some dialogues on your Dictaphone. These dialogues will not go into the novella in this format because they will be too blatant – they will be what we call ‘writing on the nose’. You are going to write on the nose and then at a later date you are going to place layers of opacity over these pieces of dialogue so that they become more real: you see, the fact is, in novels at least, people use dialogue not to reveal their needs and wants and fears, so much as to hide them - or to make them acceptable by other means. For the purposes of getting you started you are going to produce some dialogues which explicitly states your characters’ needs, wants and fears relative to others in his different environments. Specifically you will supply utterances from any characters whose agenda collides with that of your main character. In your Dictaphone dialogues you are exploring the colliding personal agendas of the character and those who are closest to him in the story. You are condensing the range of meanings which your novel will unfold and explore into a dialogue format, purely for the purpose of overview and summary. 3. You now have a setting, which you can actually describe [what to put in and what to leave out? – see next week]; you now have a character within that setting having a number of existential environments which give that character his involvement with the world; and now, emerging naturally and [usually] logically from those involvements we have a situation which opens like the jaws of a proverbial crocodile and closes around your character. This is half your novella. Just so you know in advance, the second half of your novella will describe the two or three attempts your character will make to solve or resolve the situation, and at least one of these will fail. However, one of them will usually succeed in some important way [if only for the reader, sometimes]; then you will find yourself in the closing stage of your novella. This is the end of Week 2. When you have worked through the above you should be in possession of a few different setting-plus-situation scenarios. If so, how are you going to choose between them? Or, which novella am I going to write of the novellas I now have lying before me in prospect? Well, the answer usually involves personal style, voice and tone on the one hand, and on the other – if this is your first novella [or novel, for that matter], then you are probably writing to resolve a personal issue, even if you are not conscious of the fact. We shall explore these matters in Week 3.
How can you tell if you are a writer
Are you a writer? Should you write? A checklist of writerly indicators. THE URGE TO WRITE SPRINGS FROM A DISRUPTED WILL IN THE SCHOPENHAUERIAN SENSE (HTTP://PLATO.STANFORD.EDU/ENTRIES/SCHOPENHAUER/#4). WHEN INTENTION FLOWS DIRECTLY INTO ACTION THERE IS NOTHING TO BE SAID, THERE IS ONLY BEING AND DOING AS WHEN YOU KICK A FOOTBALL, SAY THE RIGHT WORD WITHOUT THINKING, RIDE A BIKE OR RAISE A FORKFUL OF FOOD AND PLACE IT ON YOUR TONGUE. WHEN INTENTION IS BLOCKED COMPLETELY, MIND YOU, THERE IS ONLY REPRESSION, AS WHEN A POND FREEZES OVER. THIS IS TYPIFIED BY THE EXPERIENCES OF A CHILD WHO IS NOT ALLOWED TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES EMOTIONALLY [NOT ALLOWED TO LAUGH OR TO CRY], OR TO TALK ABOUT THEIR FEELINGS, IN PARTICULAR THEIR HOPES, THEIR FEARS, THEIR DESIRES. THE POND FREEZES OVER AND THERE IS LITTLE TO BE SAID ABOUT WHAT IS BELOW THE ICE. HOWEVER, WHEN INTENTION IS ONLY PARTLY BLOCKED THE WRITERLY IMPULSE IS BORN. THIS PARTIAL BLOCKING CREATES AN URGE TO SPEAK, TO SAY, AS A DISPLACEMENT ACTIVITY – AS WHEN A CAT, FOR EXAMPLE, FINDING ITS PURPOSE FRUSTRATED MAY SIT BACK AND GROOM ITSELF. IT GROOMS TO CALM ITSELF, TO SHED ENERGY, TO BRING THE SYSTEM BACK TO HOMEOSTASIS YOU WILL BE COOL, IF YOUR BODY’S INTERNAL SYSTEMS ARE IN BALANCE [HOMEOSTASIS]. AND THE MORE THESE SYSTEMS ARE PUSHED OUT OF BALANCE WITH EACH OTHER THE MORE YOU WILL BE UNCOOL – YOU MIGHT THEN HAVE A TENDENCY TO BE A ‘NERD’, OR YOU MIGHT HAVE A PROBLEM WITH EXCESS SWEATING FROM THE UNDERARMS, OR YOU MAY HAVE A PROBLEM WITH WIND, OR YOU MAY HAVE WAY TOO MANY SPOTS. MOST PEOPLE WOULD AGREE IT IS A VERY LUCKY THING TO BE COOL. BUT IF YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER YOU WILL NEITHER WANT NOR NEED TO BE COOL. AND YOU WILL BE UNCOOL, BUT IN THE COOLEST POSSIBLE WAY FOR WRITERLY UNCOOL IS BETTER FOR THE WORLD THAN COOL. WRITERLY UNCOOL IS THE THING TO BE. THE MORE PARTIAL BLOCKING OF INTENTIONS WHICH HAVE OCCURRED IN YOUR CHILDHOOD AND IN YOUR TEENS, THE MORE YOU WILL HAVE AN URGE TO WRITE. AND THE MORE THESE HAVE OCCURRED ACROSS A RANGE OF SITUATIONS THE MORE VERBAL FACILITY AND THE MORE PSYCHOLOGICAL INSIGHT YOU WILL HAVE ACQUIRED. THIS IS BECAUSE VERBAL DISPLACEMENT ACTIVITY WILL INEVITABLY TELL YOU THINGS ABOUT LIFE, ABOUT THE SITUATIONS IN WHICH YOU FIND YOURSELF, ABOUT YOUR DEEPER MOTIVATIONS. VERBAL DISPLACEMENT ACTIVITY JUST IS YOU TALKING YOURSELF THROUGH YOUR EXPERIENCES AND THIS BRINGS ADDITIONAL INSIGHT AND NEW KNOWLEDGE. COMPARE THE EVERYDAY EXPERIENCE OF BEING PARTLY BLOCKED IN YOUR INTENTIONS WITH THE GUY WHO GETS IT ALL, DOES IT ALL, JUST BREEZES RIGHT THROUGH THE DAY WITH NEVER A PROBLEM. NOW TRY AND HAVE AN INTELLIGENT CONVERSATION WITH THAT PERSON. YOU WILL PROBABLY FIND HE WON’T HAVE MUCH TO SAY EVEN IF HE IS MORE INTELLIGENT THAN YOU. THIS IS BECAUSE HE FINDS THE WORLD READY-TO-HAND [ZUHANDEN A CONCEPT ORIGINATED BY MARTIN HEIDEGGER] HTTP://EN.WIKIPEDIA.ORG/WIKI/READY-TO-HAND#READY-TO-HAND], HANDY, FOR IT’S A BREEZE. BUT AT THE END OF THE DAY HE WON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY. BUT OF COURSE IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE WRITING THAT WILL SHED THE ENERGY AND BRING THE SYSTEM [YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM] BACK TO HOMEOSTASIS; YOU COULD JUST AS WELL DANCE, PAINT, SING, DO ACROBATICS OR MARTIAL ARTS. SO WHAT IS THE MISSING COMPONENT? IN FACT THERE ARE TWO MISSING COMPONENTS STILL TO BE MENTIONED. ONE OF THE MISSING COMPONENTS IS OF COURSE THE URGE TO USE WORDS, TO EXPLORE WORDS, TO TRY WORDS OUT IN DIFFERENT SITUATIONS. AND AN IMPORTANT ASPECT OF THIS PARTICULAR QUALITY IS BEST UNDERSTOOD IF YOU TAKE A LOOK AT ICE-SKATERS, WINDSURFERS, THE FREEFALL PARACHUTIST – ALL OF THESE MUST HAVE THE ABILITY, THE DISPOSITION TO LET GO, TO THROW THEMSELVES UPON THE WORLD, COMPLETELY SHEDDING THE NORMAL CONSTRAINTS OF REASONABLE BEHAVIOUR. THE WRITERLY PERSON TOO MUST HAVE THIS ABILITY TO LET GO, TO THROW THEMSELVES UPON WORDS, TO LAUNCH INTO SPEECH. AND LAST, BUT NOT LEAST, IS THE NEED FOR CLOSURE, FOR COMPLETENESS, FOR ORDER. THE WRITERLY PERSON IS LOOKING FOR CLOSURE, IS LOOKING FOR GESTALT AT ALL TIMES. AND FINALLY, IT HAS TO BE SAID THE WRITERLY MIND IS NOT BLITHE OR BREEZY, INDEED THE WRITERLY MIND IS USUALLY HAUNTED [IN PART BY THE PRESENT, AND IN PART BY THE FUTURE, BUT MAINLY BY THE PAST] - AND IF NOT THE PAST THEN HAUNTED BY UNRESOLVED ISSUES, BE IT ROMANTIC LOVE, WRANGLES WITH PARENTS, SOCIAL ENTANGLEMENTS PROBABLY FROM SCHOOL. THESE UNRESOLVED ISSUES BECOME RESPOSITORIES, COLLECTING GROUNDS FOR ALL THE UNSHED ENERGIES OF PARTIALLY BLOCKED INTENTIONS THROUGH THE YEARS. IT IS IN THESE THAT YOU WILL FIND YOUR STORY, YOU WILL UNCOVER YOUR NOVEL – HERE IS THE ENERGY, THE URGENCY, THE IRRESOLVABLE COMPLEXITY WHICH ONLY GESTALT, CONTRIVED BY YOU, CAN SOOTHE AND SALVE. So here’s the checklist; do you have A SKILL WITH WORDS AND A FASCINATION WITH HOW THEY CAN BE USED A HISTORY OF PARTIALLY BLOCKED INTENTIONS [TYPICALLY YOU MIGHT HAVE HAD A SLIGHTLY NERVOUS PARENT WHO TENDED TO MAKE YOU WOBBLE BY ANXIOUSLY MENTIONING WHAT COULD GO WRONG IF YOU DID SUCH AND SUCH A THING JUST AS YOU WERE ABOUT TO DO IT – ALTHOUGH THERE ARE COUNTLESS DIFFERENT SCENARIOS HAVING SIMILAR EFFECTS ON THE WILL] THE OVERALL ABILITY TO LET GO, TO THROW YOURSELF INTO A SENTENCE, PARTICULARLY A COMPLEX ONE, TRUSTING IN YOUR OWN ABILITY TO FIND THE WORDS AND BRING THEM TOGETHER IN THE RIGHT WAY, FOR THE RIGHT REASON, AND IN THE RIGHT TIME UNRESOLVED ISSUES AN URGE TO FIND GESTALT, TO ORDER EXPERIENCES INTO PATTERN, INTO AESTHETIC WHOLES, WHERE ORDER RULES OVER COMPLEXITY, INCOMPLETENESS, AND UNFULFILLED DESIRE
A MEDITATION ON CREATIVE WRITING 1
Creative writing as an evolutionary instrument Creative writing is almost invariably at odds with the order of power in the world, so it is to be expected that you will have a hard time as a writer, unless you serve power. All writers, like lawyers, in fact, have these two things in common: they are more or less significantly skilled in the use of words, and they have to make a choice in life whether to serve power or to serve the good. To serve power brings worldly and material rewards; to serve the good often leads to impoverishment but also leads the writer to evolve into a better person, in some cases even a higher being. You cannot serve both masters, I’m afraid. Sooner or later you are going to have to choose. But fortunately it is not so cut and dried. And the advice I would give you is this: in your early experiments, write about yourself, and about love; and seek always to keep in mind the principles of the Buddha, or the sayings of Jesus, or the teachings of any great sage you know of, for this will give you a perspective on yourself and a certain dignity and cleanliness of tone. You will see that what I have advised you to do is basically to write children’s stories, and that of course is a good way for a writer, for it allows you to write about yourself [the child within you is still alive] and allows you to be successful without serving power. If you have no inclination to be writing stories for children then take the more general option and write about yourself, and about love. In which case it is going to be important always to be authentic, for the truth always attracts the truth, so that the true becomes a wave. More importantly, perhaps, you will be beginning the long work on yourself, which writing subserves. Writing is a long spoon which stirs the stuff of the world, but the top end of the shaft is rooted in the core of you, which is also stirred. Sooner or later you will begin to change. Sooner or later your writing will begin to write you anew. That’s a happy thought, I find. Creative writing really is an evolutionary instrument.
A MEDITATION ON CREATIVE WRITING 2
..and more sonorous than a cash register the ring of literature will be heard As a writer of a story or novella or novel, your first great challenge is to grab the attention of your potential reader. Your second great challenge is to hold the attention of your reader. And your third great challenge is to honour your debt to your reader in the development and resolution of your book. If you meet these challenges well your book will be much read and appreciated, perhaps even loved. The first challenge raises the problem of interest, and what it is to be immediately engaging, or arresting, or intriguing – all of which are a matter of content, style, tone, voice and pace. The second challenge raises the question of characterisation, environment and situation, and of course, content development. The third problem raises the problems of structure, resolution and outcome. In the course of these meditations we will look hard at each of these three challenges in turn. In fact all of these separate properties of a written text can be gathered up in one single concept, namely the concept of gestalt. Does your story have gestalt? Does your novel have gestalt? By the time you have read these meditations you should be able to judge this question for yourself. And if you can say yes, your book will show promise when it arrives on an editor’s desk. It will command the attention of your reader. It will give your reader a ghostly feeling of recognition; and this is the hallmark of the needfully and gainfully said, the true mark of necessitous work, and more sonorous than a cash register the ring of literature will be heard. Readiness
The man sat on the cliff path overlooking the wide bay and the distant cliffs dwindling away to the west. He was opening a piece of paper and appeared to be about to speak.
In the spirit of good-humoured greeting, I said to him, ‘If you are planning to make a speech I ought to tell you people aren’t up yet.’ To which the man, a complete stranger to myself, replied ‘No, no.’ And that was it. If he had had the readiness he would have said, for example, ‘I’m schooling the fish, but they are truants’; or ‘the sea gulls saw me coming and have gone shoplifting’; or ‘Canute was my teacher but the waves are obtuse.’ But he had no readiness, and for the writer, readiness is nearly [but not quite] all, for there is ripeness also.
Readiness can be acquired through the practice of holding conversations in your head, and taking the parts of many speakers, and characterising them, and making responsiveness the name of the game. Ripeness is another matter. Resourcefulness comes from schooling.
Bookshop Bestiary: beginnings of a classification of bookshop types Been taking The English Project newspaper novel to bookshops in London and have felt like nineteenth century Muggins in the deepest, darkest interior.. Truly, the different species of bookseller in England is a fascinating research challenge. There are the ice maidens, and the haughty queens, and the maternal bustlers, and the proud shopgirl booksellers [who pride themselves on their almost immediate ability to discern the difference between great literature and the front end of a removal truck] and the coyly spiting, and the openly despiteous, and the covertly annihilatory - some booksellers, you see, really cannot abide a writer, cannot abide that they breathe.. and when one comes a-trotting into their shop, a mule without a train or even a halter about its neck and no publisher-rider to ensure it gets a drink, then they just can't help themselves. But some are lovely souls, devotees of the printed word and generous to those responsible for these; some warmly welcome a writer, show every indication of respect and actually mean it, some go so far in their understanding of things to give the writer money on the spot. I have met the good sweet dear ones, usually ladies of a certain age, and I have met a range of nasties. I come away with the distinct impression that working with books plays havoc with the mind, drawing the ego by a process of osmosis into a delusion, a folie, an unconscious idea which grips like a vise, that everything in this shop 'I wrote it'. Ho hum. And to those who were kind to me, you know that I know who you are.. and when the time is ripe, and it will do you some good, I will name you each and everyone, and with each name a brief burst of songlike praise to boot.
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Robert Lipscombe copyright 2015