Obliques Arts Creative Writing sessions at The Edge Cafe finished with a flourish – an exhibition and a chapbook launch – a few weeks ago, but I was still keen to keep the Edgewords writing blog going on this website. So, this afternoon I was delighted to receive this new posting from Edgewords stalwart Lisa Evans.
In school the teacher asked us to write a story. I had the brilliant idea (or so I thought) of writing in a Derbyshire accent. I started with “It were a cold night and th’moon were like cream cheese”. I enjoyed picking words that were nearer to those I heard everyday. I showed the teacher. I hoped she would be impressed at my innovation. She read a few lines and angrily started crossing out all my deliberate attempts at an accent. The rest of the class watched as she got really worked up at my writing. As always, when people were upset with me, I couldn’t speak. I let her think I’d flaunted the grammar she’d carefully taught. She was a nice teacher in general. If I’d explained my accent idea she would almost certainly have understood. The message I took away was that I have to write better if people are to get where I’m coming from.
Another memory is writing a letter to my friend and including a poem I copied from a book. I didn’t know to credit the poet. My friend asked me eagerly if I’d written the poem, I could see how impressed she was, so I said ‘yes’. I’m terrible at subterfuge and I later showed her the poetry book. She spotted the poem I’d copied into her letter and I saw the disappointment drop through her body. The message I took away was that I loved how impressed my friend had been with the poem at first and I had to find ways to replicate that without blatantly copying.
I took these two messages with me as I grew up. They made me into quite a comic character. I was desperately reading and listening to audio books of any writing famous enough to reach me. I reasoned: if I can somehow take what’s special about these books and reinterpret it slightly, then I would be guaranteed to delight other people (as I had my friend when she thought I wrote the poem) and need little explanation (as my teacher needed when I wrote in dialect). I was asking myself, for each classic I engulfed, “is this me?” At one point I decided I was Virginia Woolf but with a modern scientific slant! When I came to write in this style, as I had not written anything until the style was settled, nothing came out.
I couldn’t write under such pressure. Slowly I reinterpreted the message I took from my friend’s reaction to my letter. Maybe I could enjoy other people’s work as she had. I eased up on that desperate search for what is considered brilliant writing and became more sensitive to what I truly enjoy. I tried to apply the same kind spirit to reading to my own stuff. I kept a diary for a few years where I managed to get down ideas just before they were lost from memory completely. There was an awkward gap between the writing I loved and the things I made, but this was an improvement on not being able to speak at all.
The message I took from my teacher reacting badly to my work was harder to shake. It boils down to a fear of getting things wrong and not being able to say why I did something. I knew that not engaging with my work after it was done wasn’t a great strategy, but my fears didn’t seem to care what I thought. I held on to these feelings until the writing class took us through the whole life cycle for a piece of creative work: from games that help you access your own voice, to writing a piece you really craft, to publishing it by folding and stitching together a book, to performing to a packed Edge Café and talking to audience members afterwards. I would, quite happy, of stopped when I submitted a peice for the book. With Jean’s gentle encouragement all this extra sharing and thinking of ways to perform the work has happened.
Having been through this life cycle once I can see it’s much more enjoyable than what I was doing. Being open to explain and perform my own work (with the kind help of the group) felt like letting go of the fear!