The Arvon foundation has just posted a call for contributions from writers on how the writing process works. These contributions may end up in a book called ‘Gists’ , along with pieces by famous writers. The questions can be found here: www.arvonwritingroom.org/
I was pointed to this by the poet Roy Marshall. There is a link to his blog on the left. I have a feeling some of my answers sound quite pretentious, but I did as Roy advised, and answered quite quickly without thinking.
How does a book or piece of writing begin to take shape in your imagination? Do you feel your writing is a process of inventing or discovering?
I write poetry and I definately feel that writing for me is a process of discovery. I often don’t know what I want to say, or what I want to write about, but feel a compulsion to sit and write. I often get a strange feeling which I can only describe as a kind of ‘stillness’ when I’m writing. Writing is a way of finding out the questions I want to ask. When I get to the end of a poem, if it’s a good poem, it won’t have answered any of the questions.
What things trigger your imaginative process (for example, significant personal experiences, particular people, places, objects, dream imagery, myths, history, etc)?
My poetry is not autobiographical, but I would say it is composed of bits of my life. Strange things happening to me trigger me to write, and then I embellish to get to the real truth – a couple having a three course meal in a Weatherspoons pub, going to a spiritualist church with people who are training to be mediums -both of these events have sparked off poems.
But maybe the thing that inspires me the most is reading other people’s poems. Often I read something and a line will stick in my head, and that will start me off on my own poem. Reading is just important to me as writing, and just as enjoyable.
How do you work – do you plan carefully or explore in the dark, trusting the process?
I don’t plan at all. It’s strange because I had a conversation about this with the performance poet Tony Walsh, who (and I hope I’m recording his opinions faithfully, but maybe he will contribute to this too and clarify) spoke about how he constantly has the audience in mind when writing a poem, and is constantly thinking, how can I make this clearer, how can I communciate what I want to say, and I was struck by what opposite ends of the spectrum we came from, as when I’m writing, I don’t know what I want to say, and I have no thought to a reader really at the drafting process. I’m writing to find something out. When I’m editing, that’s different, and of course, then I do think about a reader, and making sure the poem is communicating.
Do you feel in control of your writing or are you responsive to the requirements of the work as it unfolds?
I write very quickly at first, great big chunks of stuff, and then I often put it away for a day or two. When I come back to it, it’s often as if someone else has written it, so no I wouldn’t say I felt in control of it. I like writing when I’m really tired as well – I think this knocks down a few walls in the brain and often produces some interesting stuff.
Do you write a first draft quickly and then revise it, or build carefully from the start?
Whoops, already started to answer this question. I write a lot in the first draft, and a lot of it is dross, and then I chip away at it. My poet-friend David Tait, often mocks me for how awful my first drafts are, but I feel the need to get everything down and then lose whatever I need to lose.
How do you deal with blocks in the writing process?
If I don’t feel like writing, or I can’t write, for whatever reason, I read poetry. If I don’t feel like reading poetry, I read novels. I sometimes get slightly anxious if I’m not writing, but reading other people’s poetry calms this down.
Do you write in service of any particular values?
I don’t think so. I’m very interested in gender politics. I’m interested in psychotherapy as my husband is a psychotherapist. But I don’t write to communicate these things. They find their way in whether I want them to or not.
What have you learned from the practice of your craft?
1. To notice things
2. To think consciously, as in, to question, to discuss, to try and find humour in absurd situations
3. To listen
4. To write without thinking
5. The importance of drafting
6. The importance of having friends you can trust to help you with drafting
What is the relationship between the writer’s imagination and that of the reader?
I think the best poems for me, are when I feel a connection when I read the poem, that moment when you think, I wish I’d written that, I wish I’d noticed that the world is that way or yes, that is exactly how it is for me too. I think that the imagination of the writer should take the reader on a journey with no prescribed end, but to an opening of many possible endings..
Do writers have any moral responsibility in their work, wider than fidelity to their personal vision?
I don’t really know the answer to this. I feel a responsibility to write poetry that has truth in it, but it may not necessarily be truthful.