Sunday, 7 March 2010

Of words and ink and dreams

It has been a very difficult month – dark times living in such poverty. I feel a disconnect with the world a lot of times. But another post for that.

The only good thing about my current experience with life is that it is fuelling my creativity; I'm withdrawing ever deeper into my own world. I've started making slow progress with a novel. Slow and steady is my goal: it is the discipline and persistence that is perhaps the most fundamental barrier to writing a book. The analytical rational mind tends to predominate. Worst of all, the constant demon that must surely plague just about everyone who attempts anything creative: the fear that your creation is worthless or garbage. My creative writing is incredibly bizarre, currently extremely incoherent structurally, a very strange fragmentary mix of elements that should be completely incompatible. This may prove to be the case.

However, I shall doggedly plod on. It must evidently be my particular style or inner voice that is driving me to want to attempt to create a tapestry from so many grossly divergent threads. The straightforward, sensible, traditionally developed novel just doesn't seem to work for me.

I suppose it reflects the type of fiction I like to read. My favourite writers tend to evoke that dreamy landscape, that quixotic inner world that much surely exist at the deepest being of anyone that truly knows oneself; the absolute strangeness that doesn't get vocalised or really communicated in the more plain light of day. In terms of modern authors, I'm thinking particularly of David Mitchell and Haruki Murakami. Interestingly both have a Japanese link. Japan left a deep impression on me when I visited in 2007: the country has such a wonderful sharp contrast between the two extremes of time: nowhere is more futuristic than Tokyo, and just a short distance out you have the most incredible verdant countryside with ancient Zen temples. An incredible transition.

It also reflects what my personal experience is of living in this new 21st century. An incredible torrent (and here, even the word "torrent" has two meanings; the figurative, and of course, more literally - in this sense - the digital counterpart that plays such an important role in file/information sharing) of so many contrasting demands, time periods and resources. It is certainly a truism to say we are living in a connected fully globalised world. The change over even the last 20 years has been astonishing - though you don't really notice it until you mentally step back - but I can still vaguely remember a time before the internet really played any role in most people lives. Back around 1990 significant numbers of people were just starting to get PCs in their home, but connections were still sketchy, sluggish dial-up.

Now broadband is ubiquitous in the developed world. To not have a computer and internet connection at home has reached the point of being a bizarre anachronism. The societal effects of technology are so complex and prodigious that I am not sure that anyone has fully grasped, nor indeed will - since it is a constantly moving target at ever increasing speed - precisely how it is changing us all, in this constant "feedback loop" of the digital ether.

Anyway, I digress. I've felt strangely regressive recently, perhaps as a result of what I feel to be the hidden emptiness of this new digital landscape - I think the way that it is playing an increasing role in mediating human interactions (particularly social network sites like Facebook and the like) is potentially dangerous. It seems that the more "connected" we become, the more we become individually alienated. I will qualify and develop my particular line of thought on this probably highly fashionable topic more substantially some other time. In any case, what a joy it is to reconnect in a much more old fashioned sense with pen and paper, computer turned off: no background sound of fans, no distractions of the temptation of a billion (largely pointless) bits of information at my fingertips. Yes, the old but familiar information overload theme that has in fact been cropping up ever since the dawn of the industrial age, but really come into its own since the dawn of the "information superhighway".

So, with a few spare pennies I've managed to put aside, I bought myself some rather splendid new fountain pens, and of course, some equally splendid inks to go with them.

Lamy pens have always made terrific value fountain pens; inexpensive and extremely smooth. They write very well indeed. I had a Lamy Al-Star, an aluminium pen with the same common nib as the Safari and Nexx but managed to lose it at a festival (it was rather stupid of me to take it in the first place, rather than a simple biro...).

Anyway, so I was keen to replace this. I got the Lamy Safari in a great bright orange colour. It has a plastic body rather than aluminium, but is the same slick design otherwise.




Text: "The Lamy Safari* really is a fabulous pen for the money. For less than £15, you get a beautifully smooth writing instrument. Ink flow is consistent, generous; the nib glides across the paper with ease. This one is in a funky bright orange colour, a special edition for 2009. The plastic body has superb ergonomics and is very comfortable to write with. An extrovert coloured pen deserves a refined and subtle ink; this is Diamine's wonderful Kensington Blue.
*With medium nib fitted."

Link to high resolution image of this writing here, for those of you who'd like to attempt to manually decode my scribings or see the ink colour in better detail.

I also got the Lamy Nexx, which is even more comfortable to hold, has an even more contemporary minimalist, lean design. Same, wonderful, smooth M nib.





Text: "The Lamy Nexx has the same winning nib as on the Safari (again I went for the medium nib; I'll get another Lamy pen with a fine nib in future). This pen is even more comfortable to hold, the aluminium body is perfectly tapered. I think the styling is lovely, though it would perhaps look even better if the barrel/grip were black rather than grey-blue. Conservative styling: therefore extrovert ink! Incredible colour! This is Diamine's Pumpkin. Delightful red-orange."

Link to high resolution image of this writing here (the preview image has distorted the colour to mucky brown).

Finally I also went for the Platignum No. 1. For a relatively cheap pen, this is a marvelously heavy and solid pen; everything is solid metal. The nib is a bit "leaner" than the Lamy's, not quite as effortless, but has been very controlled with a solid ink flow so far. All the pens are of course very new, so time will tell how the nibs "run in".




"The Platignum No. 1 really does feel surprisingly luxurious for a £25 pen. It is quite weighty, and all the major components are finished in substantial metal work. This nib is definitely a lot narrower than on the Lamy's which might be a contributing factor as to why it is not quite as smooth. Time will tell how the nib runs in, but for now it certainly has a lot more of a 'tooth' than the Lamy M nib. Nevertheless, it is still a good pen for the money, and I believe the nib will improve over time. Ink flow is good. This ink is Diamine's Light Green. A perky but really natural green: a philosophic colour!"

Link to high resolution image of this writing here.

The inks are the rather delicious Diamine inks, a traditional British ink manufacturer. An energetic red-orange "Pumpkin", and a wonderfully subtle but sophisticated "Kensington Blue", both part of their "New Century" range, and the delightfully natural looking "Light Green" part of their "Old English" range. I just love the traditional Victorian looking ink bottles.

Going back to pen n' paper is bringing out the creativity again. With nothing to interact with or distract, you're faced to create from the very depths of your void. So I'm writing sections of my novel in pen and ink, then typing it/compiling it up into a word processor. As a result everything is immediately effectively getting written twice. No doubt once the material builds up to a decent quantity, I can start to constantly rewrite, expand, and hammer it down on the computer to start - hopefully - building it into one coherent novel.

My most fundamental and overriding goal at this point is simply quantity. I think the mandate to the National Novel Writing Month is absolutely right: just get the words down for now. To have a novel you need your 100,000, 200,000, or half million words down in the first place. Once you've got the quantity you can rewrite it all to get that all important quality. It doesn't matter too much at this stage even if it is all nonsense. If you've written 400,000 words of rubbish, with some dedication you can hopefully find 200,000 words that are resolutely not total rubbish.

At the very least, you'll have tried. Every attempt I've ever made at writing anything substantial - and in terms of a novel, I've tried many, many times! - has just always fizzled out after about, oh, say 10000 words. I set an impossible quality criterion, over analyse it, worry too much about where I'm going to take the story. Far better just to plough on regardless, write whatever desire, and see where it goes. Trying to plan everything too far in advance tends to kill of the creative, spontaneous energy: this is my problem. I'm always guilty of this. I just need to roll with it a bit. See where it goes. Relinquish that control.

Perhaps by doing that, eventually, I'll get to a point where the belief really does become strong that I do have a novel here, that it  is perhaps worth something. In the meantime, I just have to go step by step.

So my target is very modest: just try and average about 500 words a day on the "project". It doesn't matter how, or in what storyline, or indeed any detail - just 500 more words for the book, every day, more or less, week after week. I'm no longer segregating out fragments: everything is just getting chucked into the novel. I'll worry about turning it into some type of at least slightly sane plot-line later on. Once I've got a lot of material, if I've got whole swathes that I still don't know what to do with, I can always excise them for future use (or deletion...). But for now: everything, regardless of how irrelevant or disconnected goes in. Regardless of how good or bad I think it is, too - which is probably even more critical at this stage. I'll figure it out somehow.

With this very basic strategy, I'm hoping I'll eventually reap some dividends.


findingmywingsinlife said...

It is good to see you plugging away at that all elusive novel. I find it often hard to get those scenes- which I clearly see in my head like a movie- out onto the paper.
I too find that handwriting my pages are the best, albeit also the most painstaking route, way to write them out.
Your mention of Japan reminds me of the fact that I would really like to visit Kyoto someday- I want to see the moss gardens they have there. actually there are quite a few places around the world I'd like to visit someday- but that would make this comment terribly long if I were to list them all and why I'd want to visit them.
I did try to participate in the National Novel Writing Month last year, and while I have an excellent start on what I think will be a fantastic novel- I clearly did not finish it in the allotted time. But, like you have pointed out, they've got the right idea- get the words down first and revise/perfect later.
Well, I've certainly written quite a lengthy comment here, but I hope you don't mind. It has been quite some time since I've really left a comment on anyone's blog and yours always gets me to thinking.

Take care Aren!

Aren O. Týr said...

Completely identify with what you're saying about seeing the scenes in your head as if in a movie, yet so difficult to put into words.

Creative inspiration is so fickle: sometimes I just can't find any words, which is infuriating. Other times, whole chunks suddenly emerge; as if I'm a mere conduit since I don't know where they came from.

I find it easier to write critical/non fiction type prose (such as this blog) than the creative fantastical stuff, yet I really need the creative outlet of fiction as it allows me to express a different side of my personality and write more emotively.

Meanwhile, Kyoto is exquisite; beautiful ancient tea rooms and traditional part of the city. Japan as a whole is a marvel; incredible cities and the most lush, beautiful, green countryside imaginable.