Creativity, clichés and All That Jazz.

Those of you who follow this blog  (all  five faithful souls) will have noticed a gap in your life, felt a certain unease perhaps, over the past few weeks. No doubt you will have been asking the question where is WriteontheBeach and her riveting words of wisdom and cheer. Well, I would like to reassure you that WriteontheBeach has not become WashedupontheBeach – it’s just that life, as it so often does, has interfered with my plans and the impending move to the shores of La belle France has become…well…more impending. The sale of my house happened so quickly. I had barely cleaned the oven of its liberal helping of gunk before a charming couple fell in love with place, said “We do” and the race to clear two years of unpacked unsorted unbuggered about with “stuff” was on and, in the process, giving the lie to the words of wisdom scribed in my book Time for Your Life. Ah well, I was so busy helping others to find time for their lives, I didn’t have time to perform the same offices for myself.

Be that as it may (and you may now start to count the clichés) a week ago, I was several thousand vertigo-inducing miles above planet earth staring out of an airplane window idly wondering what would happen if it cracked and whether my somewhat stout corporeal form could actually be sucked out through it (a la some film or other that I once watched) when I noticed the clouds. Soft white, puffy, cotton wool clouds; bubbling up like pristine white mushrooms in the blue sky; twirly like seaside candy floss; a white wonderland world floating above the…er…world; a glittering snowfield punctuated with candysoft moguls. Enough already. Have you any idea how difficult it is to describe flying above the clouds without falling into a crevice of clichés? I spent nearly all the journey trying to think of something original to say about the puffy white stuff and an hour and a half later, after a smooth landing in Carcassonne, I had found precisely nothing, zero, zilch to say that was remotely original.

Then I remembered some of the feedback I’d received over the years about stories I’d submitted to competitions when that treacherous word cliché made its appearance. “Cliché –  you should find a more original way to describe this…” sticks in my mind or do I mean gullet?

In the fullness of time, ie walking from the plane to the terminal, this train of thought began to get up a head of steam. Am I a cliché-ridden old hag (rhetorical question thank you)? Do I have an original bone in my body…not that I mean to infer that I’m in any way bionic or the product of an alien planet keen to infiltrate earth with human look-alikes…no I just mean am I capable of original thought…original sin yes, maybe (wait for my memoirs), but original thought, genuine creativity? In the final analysis methinks not.

Then again what is original thought or creativity? Is that what we call genius? In which case I fear I will soon be shown the door of the writers’ room and have my temporary membership withdrawn. However, I comfort myself with the words of Mark Twain:

For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing.

Now, having touched base with you all and cast my bread on the waters, I anticipate a debate of ginourmous proportions as to the necessity for originality in the writer’s toolkit. Marks will be deducted for unnecessarily long sentences, over-use of triple dots (…) and, of course, the deployment of clichés with malice aforethought.

So What’s Your Excuse?

I had a hard day yesterday. There’s a big push on to get the bathroom finished and I had to make umpteen mugs of tea and avert my eyes modestly from the bum cleavage on display. I was quite overcome at times and needed to rest quietly. Of course I couldn’t possibly write. I mean, how can a sensitive soul create anything amid the dust, banging and a unique rendition of the Birdie song by the plasterer?

So, as I rested on the sofa, rather like Dido in the ruins of Carthage, I pondered on the difficulties that beset me. Unfortunately an unexpected moment of insight…not to say honesty pierced this balloon…it was all bull. The piece I was working on wasn’t going so well, I had a deadline to meet…so quite clearly the answer was to lollygag on the sofa pretending to be “interesting”. I have yet to figure out why, at times I’ll do anything rather than sit down and write (I use the word anything loosely). To try and fathom this odd kick in my gallop – I won’t dignify it with the words “Writers’ Block” I made a list of some of the excuses I use to avoid writing.

1.I haven’t got time as I snuggle up on the sofa to watch back to back episodes of Andrew Davies’ Pride and Prejudice for the seventeenth time.
2. I’ve a pain in my brain and it hurts when I think and anyway staring out of the window watching the sea is all part of the creative process.
3. The dog’s just pee’d on the handwritten copy of my manuscript; it was the only copy; I’ll never be able to write it all again. (Sobs theatrically).
4.There’s a pile of ironing I absolutely must do. If I don’t get my outfit ironed for tomorrow’s seminar I’ll look like unfinished origami.
5. I’ve got the headache from hell (definitely not the same as 2 above) after a frozen squid fell from the sky and knocked me out. (OK I made that one up but it did happen to somebody).

So now it’s your turn. What excuses do you find? Let me know and I’ll collate and post them all.

Oh Damn…perhaps it’s just me?

Danger, Muse at Work

Have you ever stopped to think about some of the most unlikely and inopportune times when your Muse has decided to go back to work? Not so long ago I had a bit of a drought on the ideas front. I tried all my usual tricks and techniques but it still didn’t rain. So I decided to put it all on one side and do something completely different like a bit of decorating.

I got the wallpaper, sized the wall, cut and pasted the first strip and just as I’d gotten up the ladder with the paste dripping down my neck…whoosh Madam Muse decided to make an appearance and I stood transfixed as she telepathed half a dozen brilliant ideas. The wallpaper uncurled itself from my loosened grasp, wrapped around me to create a fetching little number and I grobbled for my notebook under all the decorating detritus.

Then there was the time I caused a supermarket trolley crash. Have you noticed how few people seem to have any trolley road sense or courtesy? Anyway, there I was chucking in the comestibles, sharpening my elbows as I scrutinised the price reduced shelves and whoosh again…I got THE MOST BRILLIANT IDEA. I did a quick three-point turn but the trolley driver behind clearly didn’t see my signal and we met head on soon to be joined by trolley number 3 in a tangled menage a trois. I was almost incinerated by the glares.

The Muse has struck in the middle of seminars (usually after lunch when delegates are sleeping off a heavy lunch), when chopping logs (bit iffy that – fingers at risk) and, probably the strangest place, down a Pharaoh’s tomb during a trip to Egypt. I became so abstracted I lost the party I was with, lost my way out of the tomb, lost the bus I was supposed to travel on and only returned to normality (well for me) when a tour guide, with all the charm of a cockroach,kicked me off his bus because it was only for Germans. Schweinhund! I ended up taking a taxi back to the hotel only to find my so called mates hadn’t even missed me. To cap it all, the idea that had taken root in my brain had withered away and Madam Muse had gone AWOL again.

Happy Monday.

My Carnation Condensed Milk Moment

There’s nowhere to hide. The house is in chaos; a century of black dust swirls around, settling then rising and falling again into a different pattern. I’ve got the builders in. I’m not the world’s greatest visualiser so I live in hope rather than expectation that the end will justify the disruption and I’ll have smooth plaster instead of leprous lumps; safe electricity rather than the hissing switches and a fab bathroom just as I wanted it.

This whole building process – design, plan, destroy, build, destroy again and re-build – reminds me of the way I deal with ideas. They float around in my head, specks of untold possibilities bumping into each other; sometimes conjoining, other times repelling. Truth be told its a bit of a war zone and I know enough to be wary; gather those thoughts together too soon and they go “pouf” and vanish into the ether; leave them too late and they go stale on me and lose their sparkle.

The art of knowing when to start putting a piece of writing together still sits on the dark side for me but when I do get it right there’s no greater satisfaction. The words come at just the right pace, everything flows and melds. It’s like pouring a shot of sweet smooth Carnation Condensed milk down my throat (still one of my enduring childhood loves). How I feel about a piece I’ve written generally is a good indicator of whether it will sell (and I make no apologies for being “commercial” about it). Often I choke up a bit when I read the finished piece and whenever that has happened I’ve had success. I don’t know yet whether this is some subtle subconscious crystal ball or just plain happenstance – time will tell.

However if any of you are moved to tears by now and you are sure it’s not down to the tortuous segue between first and second paragraphs, then perhaps this piece works for you too.

The First Time Ever I…

The first time a writer sees anything of theirs published has to be a real milestone and something to be remembered and cherished. My “first time ever” memory is in HD and glorious technicolour. I had moved, with spouse, away from the town and into the Yorkshire Dales. It was part of a deal I made with spouse for me to have a gap year away from the career ladder I was climbing.

Up to this point my literary outpourings had not been well received…in fact they’d barely been received before they were winging their way back in the obligatory stamped addressed envelope. This was well before the dawning of the age of computer.

Things were tight financially – so much so that I spent an awful lot of time licking and sticking Co-op stamps (early version of Clubcard and Nectar points)into little books. Then I would barter or cash them in for petrol money at the local shop.

One morning I had to visit the Doctor’s surgery and, indulging in my usual sport of eavesdropping I heard what I thought was a funny story. Furtively I noted down the salient points and when I got home I turned it into a letter-to-the-editor for a national newspaper. At the time they were paying £5 for the star letter. I then forgot about it.

About a month later I got this letter from the paper congratulating me on writing the star letter, enclosing a cutting and, much more importantly, a postal order (yes you read that right) for a whole Five English Pounds. WOO-HOO! I was in funds at last.

I walked on air for the next week or so carrying the cutting in my pocket. Then, a few weeks after I got another letter from the editor. ‘This is it’ I thought as I feverishly tore at the envelope, ‘they want me to write for them’.

Alas, No. It was a very stiff letter from the Ed-in-Chief reminding me that the paper prided itself on only publishing original letters and reprimanding me for sending in a letter that was not original. To say I was gob-smacked is inadequate. But there, enclosed with the letter was a cutting from a magazine dated two years earlier and it told almost exactly the same funny story.

In that moment, the gilt slid off the gingerbread. I had acted in good faith; I’d never seen the magazine; I genuinely believed I was offering an original snippet based on the story I overheard. Yet I felt as guilty as I would had I really copied someone else’s work.

But that’s not the worst of it. For the next few weeks I lived in fear and trembling of another letter from Ed-in-Chief asking for his postal order back.

There’s a moral to this tale somewhere.