Wednesday, 1 May 2013


I’m struggling with a work in progress. I’m definitely more a pantser than a planner, although I do use a kind of “planning as a sideline while you write” system.

 Even so, there’s been a great gap in the story. 

I couldn’t see how to tie up the plot strands strongly enough. And I do mean “see”.

My writing brain is mostly visual, and for too long – with this particular story, not others -  I’ve stared at the fuzzy blank screen that is my mind, finding little but “You may be experiencing problems with your reception” messages.

This “stuck” time has not been pretty or comfortable, even in this much edited account. My brain just didn’t dream the story any more.

But recently things have started to ease. Mainly through a friend’s suggestion, I’ve suddenly “seen” a new visual image. It may be strong enough to stand as the linking symbol that the novel needs. But it’s been such a hard, sterile process getting here.

Today, I’m tending towards happy. The story and I are now trudging onwards, bit by bit. 

I’m feeling – almost – as if I might be working with writing that’s singing and that’s what I want. (Before you ask, the other is for the writing to sing in the readers head. Ah, the writer's vanity!)

However – and this is my really BIG and IMPORTANT point – two weeks ago I heard someone else despairing about writing:

“I don’t like writing. How can I put in an introduction and a problem  and a development and a complication and a resolution all in about twenty-five minutes? It’s just not possible!”

Knowing – as you’ve heard – something about the writing process, how I agree with that writer.Is it twenty five or thirty five minutes? Hardlyt hink that matters.

How very angry and despairing I feel on his behalf, because I know he is a six and a half year old being trained for his KS1 SATs story writing task!

Just compare that with Anna Wilson’s joyful account of her early scribbles a day or two ago on ABBA!

It’s even possible that his problems are made worse by the fact that he is a very capable reader and therefore knows how complicated language and stories can be. 

All I see is that  – and not even out of Key Stage One -  this boy no longer feels he can be a writer, a communicator, a maker with words.

GRRrrrr! Totally saddening. Angry making. Enraging. A bitter thought for me and definitely for him.

“No problem,” says someone important. A Gove-alike. “Never mind, once this is done, he’ll have chances to revisit story during Key Stage Two.
Unfortunately, from what I have picked up on my school travels, his other story writing opportunities will be few. They seem to be Rewriting a Myth, Writing a Quest story and possibly An Adventure Story.  

Less than ONE story a YEAR in Key Stage Two. That's four years of a child's life.

Never mind. Perhaps the long months of recounts and persuasive writing and adverts and so on will inspire him, now that the education system is set on killing the story dead.

For more than one child, I fear.

Now that’s a hollow screen for staring at, all right.

Penny Dolan

A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E. (Bloomsbury)


Pauline Chandler said...

The 'stuck' stage is awful, isn't it,Penny? It makes me feel positively ill and, of course,as if I'll never write again. Writing requires enormous faith and hope, with no option but to carry on, regardless! I'm glad you're beginning to see some progress. As for children writing, my blood boils to think about what's going on in some schools. We're closing doors for kids when we should be opening them.

Emma Barnes said...

I've been there,'s a dreadful, dreary feeling, I'm glad there's been a breakthrough for you.

As to the schools...I suppose it can be helpful to give children some elements of "craft", if it's well taught. But sometimes it does indeed seem better to do what we did at school: "now sit down and write a story" with no more than a sentence or two, if that, to get us going.

Charlotte Guillain said...

My memory of primary school is being read to at length on a daily basis as a class and being whooped up with inspiration all the time so we'd go home itching to write the next story or continue what we'd started in class. God know what national level we were but we were writers, with a love of story and an exciting purpose. When I see what's done now it makes me so sad. I suppose authors going into schools are at least one way to fight back?

catdownunder said...

Oh don't tell me they do that sort of thing in the UK as well? (Well, yes I knew they did but I hoped they did not!)
They are killing creative writing here - "reading" can now be looking at a poster. Sigh

Penny Dolan said...

I'm very happy for a bit of craft, Emma, but to see a child not yet seven so weighed down by the thought of writing felt very sad.

Pauline, I think that the faith and hope are some of the feelings one tries to convey during author visits. Yes, fighting back, as Charlotte says. (That sounds a lovely primary school!)

Cat, sorry to hear it's the practice down under. (Ooops. Have never checked if you are OZ or NZ?) Though reading CAN be looking at a poster it is a whole lot blooming more, and (imo) the reading at length (ie. beyond the scope of a whiteboard screen) is so valuable in extending knowledge of language.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I LOVE that moody sea image Penny. That is probably enough to get you stirred on to wonderful sentences that just fall onto the page. I wonder if its the same visual image you're referring to?

Joan Lennon said...

Thank goodness for all the education that goes on outside school!

And here's to trudging!

Emma Barnes said...

I agree with you Penny...there's absolutely no point in teaching structure, or making children edit their work (important though those things are to many writers) when it justs kills their pleasure in the story.