Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 24 January 2015

Early spring cleaning by Mary Smith

I offered to swap blog posting dates with co-blogger Jenny Harper who is somewhere in the south of India this week – not jealous, not jealous, not…oh, all right, I admit I’m green with envy especially when I look at the window and it’s wet and grey and cold.

You may be thinking it’s not even the right time to start on the spring cleaning but I assure you there is not a duster or tin of polish in sight. No, I’m spring cleaning draft work on various places on my computer and in notebooks of which there are several scattered around the place. I never seem to finish one notebook before I start writing in another. I always intend to but I misplace them or I buy new ones and start writing in them immediately. I have some which I try to keep for poems but if an idea for a story strikes when I have my poetry notebook by my side then, of course, I’m not going to risk the idea disappearing into the ether while I find the correct notebook.

On my computer, I have several chunks of NaNoWriMo novels – abandoned part way through November. One of those starts with a woman clearing out her mother’s loft, finding an old address book (her own, not her mother’s) and spots the phone number of a man with whom she had an affair many years ago. She decides to call him. The story jumps to her standing by the fountain in a shopping centre, waiting for him to turn up. He’s late and while she waits she thinks back to their relationship. It was shortly after this I gave up writing – he sounded so utterly obnoxious I couldn’t believe my heroine (or anyone else) would embark on a love affair with him. And, I had absolutely no idea where the story was supposed to be going. My finger hovered over the delete button for a moment – gone.

I have found beginnings of what might be short stories, the first few pages of novels written in a variety of styles from chick lit to a kind of fictionalised memoir. Started and abandoned – and I think now I know why. It is because none of these pieces are the start of anything I would feel comfortable writing. There is no trace of my voice in any them. Deleted! Well, not entirely. There’s this curious little piece:

“When her mother came into the room, Maggie held the photo towards her. ‘You’re just in time to tell me who this is.’ She watched, alarmed, as the colour drained from her mother’s face.
‘I didn’t know she’d kept it,’ she whispered.
‘Mum, what’s wrong? Who is this?’ She shook the photo at her mother who sank down onto the bed. She held her hands out for the photo frame.
‘Jawad. His name was Jawad. He was your gran’s,’ she paused for a second, continued, ‘your gran’s friend. A long time ago.’
Maggie took back the photo staring down at the handsome face. ‘Oh,’ she whispered, ‘walnut man.’” 

I’m keeping this – it will go in a file labelled Possibilities, along with part of a short story about a man preparing to take a photo of a monkey when a small boy throws his sandal to chase it away and is rewarded with a torrent of abuse from the tourist. There is a line in it which says the boy had realised the monkey’s intentions – was he going to bite the man, grab his camera?

I have bits of monologues, some of which I’m deleting, some I might keep. In notebooks are draft poems by the score, not all complete, but many containing a nugget of something worth working on. I’m going to type them up and file them under ‘poems in progress.’

By the time my turn to post on our blog I should have done my spring clean and have some idea of exactly what writing projects I am going to focus on. Is everyone else much better organised than I am?

13 comments:

  1. Oh, Mary. I don't have a clue how to clean. I have a file in my email file box that says "To Be Sorted." Prolly a thousand emails in the thing. I can't face it. You are braver than I am. I want to go trekking with Jenny Harper instead.

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    1. Hi Jackie, I'd much rather be in India with Jenny Harper, too, but since I can't be I thought I'd sort out. It's a mixture of being quite cathartic when I hit delete to panic that maybe I should have kept what might possibly just have been a bestseller!

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  2. Oh, dear, I expect many of us will identify with this post, Mary! I have far too many started projects, snippets of writing in notebooks and half-finished novels. I make an attempt to sort them out every now and then. Good luck with yours!

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    1. Thanks, Rosemary. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who lives in a creative muddle!

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  3. Well, here I am , sitting in the most beautiful room in the world next to one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, reading your blog. Thanks for swapping! I am full of admiration for your housekeeping efforts. Wow. I'm the same - dozens of notebooks, totally disorganised. If you keep just one, and use it till it's finished - how would you ever remember when THAT idea was jotted down, or the OTHER note you thought was so important? And if you just grab the nearest book, as I do, things are even more chaotic.But deleting a whole idea completely - now that is brave.

    Jackie Weger, you are welcome here in India with me! It's an amazing place, and WARM (currently high 20s C).All I can say is, I'm also writing (12k since I arrived here - not bad for a holiday).

    I'll be back and blogging next week. Till then, I'm thinking of you in the icy blasts, Mary, typing up all your notes!

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    1. It hardly stopped raining all day, Jenny so I'm now even more jealous - especially about the high 20s temperature. I'm beginning to think I am not alone in my lack of organisation. Wonder what would happen if we swapped around our half-filled notebooks?
      Well done on the 12k. I'll get back to clearing out and typing up now.

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  4. I'm definitely not more focussed than you. It makes me really pleased (sorry) that someone else has a writing stash that needs 'spring-cleaning' too. And it's a very good idea to do it. I'll get round to it one day soon, I'm sure...

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    1. Gill, I'm certain now writers as a bunch are terribly disorganised! I thought you'd be much more focussed and streamlined. I'll let you know what progress I make.

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  5. Oh gosh, yes, couldn't we all benefit from some Spring-cleaning? But notebooks ....how hard it is not to buy new ones far too often. But throw things away? Nope, can't do that.....there might be just the one, pivotal sentence to take from something and fit in somewhere else ... might.

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    1. There is something wonderful about buying new notebooks, isn't there? I think most writers succumb very easily to the lure of a stationery shop. I'm finding things in notebooks I don't even remember writing and have no idea of what I was thinking about - and will probably forget again. Maybe I need to go through them all once a month or something. But there is a lot of garbage in amongst what might possibly be useful.

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  7. And just to sound a note of caution about over-zealous spring-cleaning ... I've just dug out a notebook I used to research a project I abandoned twenty years ago and found useful nuggets in it for one of my new projects

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    1. Thanks for the warning. My natural instinct is to hoard everything so after the first few giddy moments of deleting, I find more and more bits and pieces are being shunted into a rapidly growing folder labelled 'Potentially Useful'. Still, once I've gone through the notebooks, typing up what is worth keeping, I will have some extra shelf space.

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