Friday, August 17, 2012

Stretching my writing muscles

After an emotionally draining year caring for my Dad who died at the end of June, I desperately needed a break.  Opportunity knocked in the form of Writers' Holiday. I've been going every few years ever since Anne and Gerry Hobbs set it up 27 years ago. My early visits were as a delegate, and I attended the courses and lectures anxious to learn everything I could from professional authors who, having been there and done it, were so generous with their time and expertise.  
A few years later, after I'd had several novels published, I was thrilled to be invited to lead a course.  As far as I was concerned the only thing I was qualified to teach was what I had learned by doing. So the course I offered was The Craft of Novel Writing.  In the blurb I made it clear that I was not laying down rules, or claiming that mine was the only way, just that it had worked for me and might work for others.  I was really nervous and thought if ten people came I'd be thrilled and it would justify Gerry's invitation. Fifty-two turned up so we had to move into the lecture theatre. It was exhausting, inspiring, we all had a terrific time, and I was invited back to lead further courses.

But this year attending as a delegate offered me the chance to meet up with old friends and enjoy a refresher course in the techniques of writing.  Though I've 27 books published I still suffer doubts; still have days when my confidence is at basement level and dropping.   The longer I continue writing, the more I realise there's still so much I can learn. So though my original plan had been to use the escape from normal life to make progress on my current book, I decided instead to take each day as it came and enjoy every moment.  

After spending the first half of the week sitting in on Lesley Horton's Intermediate Novel course, Moving it On, I spent the second half at Stretching Your Writing Muscles given by historical novelist Elizabeth Hawksley, one of our HNUK bloggers and an inspiring teacher. 

As a reader I greatly admire the ability of poets to evoke emotion and images using very few words. But as a writer I have always preferred the broad canvas of a novel.  So when Elizabeth allowed us eight minutes in which to write a haiku, I had a rabbit-caught-in-headlights moment.  

Haiku is a Japanese form of poem containing 17 syllables. Not 17 lines, just 17 syllables. I knew that.  What I didn't know, and it was briefly paralysing to be informed, was that the first line must contain 5 syllables and evoke an image, the second 7 and a mood, and the third 5 and an observation.  My immediate reaction was I can’t. But I was there to have my writing muscles stretched, though I hadn't expected the rack!

We could choose any subject. My mind was blank. When Elizabeth suggested A Winter Evening I grabbed it like a lifebelt. Most of my lined A4 sheet ended up as scribbles.  But when Elizabeth called ‘time’ I was astonished to realise I had my 17 syllables.  Some of those read out were awesome.  Mine certainly wasn't. But I'd achieved more than I expected. Which reminded me of a very apt quote: Try, and you very well might. Don't, and you certainly won't.  I arrived home refreshed, invigorated and re-enthused about my book. Taking that brief step back helped me make a giant leap forward.   

Jane Jackson


Anonymous said...

Never tried to write a haiku but your fascinating post made me want to have a go. Isn't it difficult?

And doesn't it give a writer a wonderful excuse to start displacement activity when she should be writing the wip?

Still I've limited myself to one haiku and now I AM going back to the wip. Honest! (And no, I am NOT going to post my 17 syllables here, or anywhere else.)

Jane Jackson said...

Hi Joanna,
You're right - yes it's difficult, and yes it's a seductive displacement activity. But when you need a break from the wip, it's something completely different, still writing-related, and gives the brain (not to mention the fingers with all that counting!) a terrific workout.

Christina Hollis said...

Although I knew about the number of syllables, I didn't know about the requirements for each line. That's intriguing. I'm off to try it now, instead of vacuuming!

Jane Jackson said...

Hi Christina, I pondered mine while ironing. It's amazing how much more quickly chores get done when your mind is occupied with something enjoyable and a challenge.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Thank you for your kind comments, Jane. It was great having you in the class; I very much enjoyed your contributions.

Jane Jackson said...

Thanks, Elizabeth.