Sunday 2 February 2020

Writing in the 'cracks', frogs, Portia and pencils.

Recently I’ve been very busy teaching, haven’t had much time to write and am alternating between feeling guilty that I haven’t made time to do so or that I have just plain written so little recently. I’m moderately long in the tooth so I have been here before and struggled with the sense of inertia I now have about getting started again… yet again. I’ve just looked through my notes and found a couple of sentences I wrote down in a hurry, a week or two ago, which related to an idea I know I was quite excited about at the time. Now I can’t for the life of me work out what these now apparently random scribblings indicate! Should have got on with writing the piece then and there! Doh!

Fortunately, some wise words that have sustained me through periods like this come to mind. Once before, when I was complaining to friend about lack of time to focus on my writing, he told me about an article he had read written by a busy working mum and author. Apparently, she talked about how she wrote in the ‘cracks’ by which she meant the small slices of time she had available in between juggling the scores of tasks she had to get done each day. To her surprise she had found that despite only being able to work on a project intermittently and for short periods that she was able to pick up the threads of the piece she was working on surprisingly quickly each time and that she could seamlessly add a little more to it each time, with the result that it slowly built up into a coherent whole rather than reading as if it had been patched together randomly. Inspired by her example I cautiously attempted to start writing a story in this piecemeal manner. Naturally I expected that as I would be in a different mood, in a different creative space, even in a different location when I worked on it each time that the story would read as if it had been thrown together like a collage made at a nursery but surprisingly it worked for me as well! In fact, given that we’re all so busy these days, I’ve passed on this suggestion to several other writers and they have also found that this approach has worked for them as well. Of course if we have longer periods of time to focus on our work, a luxury I’ve enjoyed a few times, then we can get a lot more done but it does seem as though if we can keep the motor ticking over as much as possible that helps to keep the creative juices flowing. The flip-side of this is that as I haven’t even ‘written in the cracks’ recently I’m feeling like a fraud even writing this – hopefully soon I’ll start utilising the cracks again rather than falling through them! Do let me know if this approach occasionally works for you too!

A not unrelated experience for me, when having taken my foot off the pedal for a while, is the degree to which I feel courageous with my writing, or more accurately what I dare to imagine. It often makes me think of a young boy I worked with when I was doing a writing workshop. I was discussing ideas for a story with him. ‘How about one day your house turns into a giant frog, the size of your house?’ I suggested. The boy looked at me, eyes shining, delighted by this idea. ‘Yeah!’ he responded, obviously enthralled. ‘What could happen then?’ I asked. Still grinning the boy thought for a while but then said, ‘I don’t know’. ‘Perhaps it could hop down the street?’ I offered, not wanting to take over too much. The boy’s expression immediately changed and he glared at me with a mixture of resentment and astonishment and as though I’d made a suggestion that defied all rules of logic, science and possibly even decency. He indignantly declared, ‘It couldn’t do that – we live in a terraced house!’ I remain completely at a loss to understand why he was perfectly happy to imagine such an impossible transformation as his house turning into a frog but unable to accept the idea of its being able to hop – like a frog – away from buildings of which it was no longer a part. It reminds me to watch out for when I also can turn a house into a frog but can’t allow it to hop.

Often our own lessons come back to haunt us, don’t they? On many similar occasions children have approached me at workshops and asked whether such and such a character can do something unusual or such and such an incredible event can occur and in response I’ve asked them to give me their pencil. ‘Do you know what this is?’ I ask. ‘Yerss…’ they reply uncertainly not quite sure why this visiting author is asking this question whilst holding up what they clearly know is a pencil. ‘It’s a Pencil of Power!’ I declare… ‘With this Pencil of Power you can mad your characters can do anything you want them to do or you can make anything you want to happen… happen!’ The response is a slightly bemused ‘oh’ and the children then return to their work, hopefully with greater willingness to create frogs that can hop.

I also need to remember my own lesson! How like Portia can I ‘easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.’

Recent publication. The Gobulins and the Globulins; The narrator of the tale inherits far more than a remote cottage in Wales from his uncle…


Joan Lennon said...

'Writing in the cracks' - yes! (Loved that terraced frog!) Thanks, Steve

Susan Price said...

Yes, writing in the cracks seems similar to the 'set the kitchen timer to write for ten minutes' method or the 'make a special trip to the pub and write for one hour' method. Maybe they're all ways of making us think: 'I will write for this limited time,' rather than, 'It's no good trying to get anything done because I haven't enough time.'

I also think, from my own experience, that they're ways of tricking yourself into just STARTING, of overcoming that reluctance, which is probably a fear of failure. Once you've broken through that barrier, you often want to go on and on and on.

Good luck with your writing in the cracks!

Anne Booth said...

I think this is very interesting. When my children were home and when I was looking after my parents, I had no choice but to write in the cracks, and did. Strangely, now that I do have some uninterrupted time to write and don't have the cracks, I am struggling. I need to set the kitchen timer and limit my time again to get over the terror!

Steve Way said...

Dear Joan, Susan and Anne,
Thank you for your comments. It's interesting, I think we face a variety of fears (or demons?) as writers, such as getting started as you described Susan, and then - perversely - when we do actually have uninterrupted time, as you mention Anne, we wonder how we could possibly fill the time by putting words together on the page and not run out of ideas within the first five minutes! Perhaps the 'cracks' method or the timer method as ways of side-stepping these fears - though I like the 'special trip to the pub' method best Susan! If you don't manage to write anything at least you can more easily drown your sorrows! I remember one writer suggesting that 'writing consists of words and whisky' - maybe he was on to something!