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Reflections of a working writer and reader



A Writer’s Notebook XI

‘That guy you used to be married to? What was his name?’

‘Carl?’ Sheila said.

‘Carl. Yeah. There’s a new woman at school; cleaner, used to know his sister. What happened to him?’

‘He’s in Warsaw. Dunno what he’s doing, whether he’s still with whatsherface.’

‘Warsaw. In Poland?’

‘Last I heard, yeah. He always did go in the wrong direction.’

Sheila had had a Christmas card from him, six, maybe seven years back. But nothing since. And before that it’d been ten years without a word. People would let things slip from time to time. He’d been in town a couple of days to see his dad. There was a rumour that she, his partner, was having an affair with someone else and he was going to throw her out. But that passed over, apparently.

‘D’you think about him?’

Sheila shook her head. ‘If you hadn’t brought him up just now, I could’ve gone for years without a flicker.’

And it was true. This man who had occupied the spaces of her heart and mind and filled the endless, moving panorama of her life, had moved aside. ‘What do they call those huge screens? Giant images, make you feel small?’


‘That’s it, yeah. When we were together he was like that. In your face all day long, all night. A giant movie screen. I thought I’d never get rid of him. And now he’s just an anecdote.’

2 Responses to “A Writer’s Notebook XI”

  1. nicole says:

    That is just gorgeous – the ex became an anecdote! Im just pleased I didnt have coffee in my mouth when I got to that last bit or it would be splattered across the screen. Was this a borrowed conversation (overheard) or creative writing?

    I have just read through your writer’s notebook and I have a question but I dont know someone who has sat down for more than 10 years and written – which is clearly what you have done to master your craft so I hope you could spare the time to answer the Q.

    I ‘jot’ a lot. Carry a note book around for juicy bits of ‘life’. I have a coursebook (purchased on holiday in UK 2005) & lots of writing exercises. I have a vague plot for a novel (crime genre) & a cast for the story but when pen comes to paper it becomes a monster tidal wave with story, cast, grammar etc shifting every second. I have tried to approach it like an essay, & not begin at the beginning, then tried at the end etc but it still spirals out of control & the “fun” in writing, which I love, is gone. On the otherhand when I just do writing exercises I feel I am not moving forward at all. So, my query is, (please dont laugh outloud when you read it) do writer’s put their “ideas” aside, and “write everyday” by doing practices/prompts etc, or do they slog on drafting trying to box through the fog & doing the exercises? I like to just write so my plot outline is not detailed – but if I plot too much I loose interest. A lot of the exercises I come across assume the ‘green’ writer does not know who their cast comprises of, or where it is set – I have a couple of major characters already but even they struggle on paper & feel forced and heavy when I write – is this what writers work out of their system in their workbook? I dont teach writing, but reading this even I think “this writer needs more work”… so when writers sit to write their novel, is it just that – everyday – or are there times where they too have to go back to 10 minute freewriting exercises etc to keep it alive?

    jb says: Hi Nicole. I’m not quite sure what your question is. The main thing is to write often. I read a quote of Carson McCullers the other day where she said she’s worked on The Heart is a Lonely Hunter for more than a year before she knew what it was about.
    And I suspect that this is your question. That you feel you should be in control of what you are writing all the time, and when you aren’t it’s getting away from you, losing its form, etc.
    Instead, try letting it go where it will, keep the faith and try to keep up. Eventually it should reveal itself. I’m often lost with a manuscript, sometimes for months on end, but I believe my subconscious or unconscious or whatever it is, knows what it is doing. And usually, but not always, it eventually comes together in such a way that it is editable and ready to acquire a distinctive form.

  2. nicole says:

    I should have mentioned that I am a complete amateur & do not share with people my secret passion for words & books (especially here in New Zealand where everyone is passionate about rugby, farming, horses, and the more unfriendly sport of verbally bashing those that loose). Im pleased to know now that the chaos is normal & to be expected – so I will keep boxing with the fog – thank heaven there are published authors out there to keep me sane. I have to say filling the notebook can be far more rewarding because it comes so easy – no structure, just a reflection of the view around me. So if it is “write everyday” it is “write everyday for or about the novel” and use the the practice exercises, (write non-stop for 10 mins etc) as an equivalent to a warm up for an ironman competition only I dont have to get wet, or run up the side of a mountain (another pass time out here, but I prefer the more genteel art of reclining with Colin Dexter or Ms P James). I was a bit challenged with one exercise that suggested writing a paragraph with words that did not have an ‘e’ in them – well I could not for the life of me see how that was going to aid my writing but it did make me think that writing appears to be for the trapeze artist (mentally). Thanks anyway, and if uninspired I will reread your blog to rekindle the spark.