The Weakest Ink

This month, I’ve been taking part in Fun a Day Dundee, a project to create whatever you like in or throughout January. Mine is called Line for a Walk, where I’m writing fragments every day to form a circular sentence by the end of the month.

Back in 2015, I made a post where I talked about my creative response to an exhibition where I wasn’t happy with my own work. This month, I’ve had a similar experience – particularly from Day 20 onwards – as I’ve realised my project is running out of steam. I did have a lot of ideas at the beginning of January, which I’ve now used.

I will finish the project as planned, but I’ve realised I need more focus. This doesn’t mean taking a prescriptive approach, merely setting some type of restriction or theme. A blank page is harder to tackle than a brief which reads something like ‘In 500 words, write about two characters on a boat’.

Where I have enjoyed some success is in my handful of side projects – those that are part of Fun a Day but don’t fall under Line for a Walk. These spontaneous side projects have included poetry and visual art experiments, but relying on spontaneity for a month is a tough request.

Meanwhile, I need to realise that I’ve yet to see the end of the project and that those perceived weak links might not be as flimsy as they now appear. I also need to remember it’s supposed to be a slice of fun.

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Unpicking Suits

Over Christmas and New Year, I had the chance to catch up on legal drama Suits up to and including season 7.

So far, it’s been an engaging watch, and I think that’s down to the strong writing. The characters are motivated by what they want, whether that’s money, power, or – especially in the case of Louis Litt – petty one-upmanship.

It’s also clear that the writers have lived the experience of being a lawyer rather than simply researched it. In that sense, it has a similar feel to The West Wing. But the writing does have some flaws.

It is reasonable that characters will think in a similar way because they work in the same field, but they often express themselves with identical turns of phrase, sometimes down to swearing in the same manner.

The other piece of dialogue that often appears is: ‘What are you talking about?’ Used sparingly, this allows a character to explain the point in a different way and allow the viewer to understand it more clearly. In Suits, however, it’s used as a crutch.

That said, I’m still looking forward to season 8, whenever I have a chance to watch it.

Slam Up

Having taken a break from my poetry group to join a choir, I jumped back in on Thursday. The Wyverns meet up every month to give each other feedback on our latest work. In my absence, they’d acquired a new member and set up a Twitter account.

The great strength of the group is the freedom to write in your own style. One member tends towards long and thin poems; another usually has a political undertone; a third normally writes no more than ten lines. I aim to produce something original for each meeting.

This month, one of our suggested prompts was ‘memory’. I received positive feedback from the piece, with one commenting that it had more impact when read aloud instead of on the page, although it wasn’t specifically written for either page or stage.

Speaking of performance poetry, however, I had the opportunity to watch the Scottish Slam Championship in Glasgow yesterday. The participants are all winners of other slams that took place around the country over the last twelve months.

Unlike a rap battle, as seen in the film 8 Mile, these performers don’t go head to head. Instead, they’re each allowed to perform two pieces for up to three minutes apiece in front of a panel of judges. The three who score the most combined points for their poems – four if there’s a tie – then perform another one. The best one of those is invited to the Poetry World Series in Paris.

Robin Cairns is the perennial host of the Scottish Slam, this year introducing more than a dozen contenders covering all manner of subjects, including mental health, feminism, self-worth and many stations in between. Each was so strong so that a clear winner wasn’t evident to me; however, the judges awarded most points to Calum Rodger, so he’ll be heading to France in May.

One of the other poets that particularly inspired me was Gray Crosbie, who talked about struggling to find a gender-neutral barber. I already had a poem with a related theme, but I’d left it aside months ago as it wasn’t working out as I intended.

As I sat on the bus home, I rewrote it in around an hour, and this time I’m much happier with the result.


It’s Been a Good Week

It’s been a good week for completing some writing. It has, in fact, been a terrific week for this activity. However, it’s left me with no time for writing a blog entry.

I therefore refer you to my Fun a Day project on Instagram . The captions of the last ten or so posts talk more about the fragments of text in the pictures.

I’ll be back here next week with a full entry.

All the Fun of the Day

For the second year, I’ll be taking part in Fun a Day. This is a project where participants do something creative during January, either one project per day or something larger over the entire month.

I’ve already started to document my progress in a commonplace book. With the official hashtag now announced, I posted my first two pictures online. The first contained the three rules of my project. The second contained this quote from Monica Geller in Friends.

Rules are good! Rules help control the fun!
Rules are good! Rules help control the fun!

My main project will be text-based. I’ll be writing a fragment of 40 words on Day 1, 39 words on Day 2, and so on until I’m writing 10 words on Day 31. The text will form a complete circle so the fragment on the last day will join up with the fragment on the first.

That said, being around visual artists has had an effect on me. Last year’s project consisted largely of pen on lined paper, which looked somewhat out of place compared to the other participants’ installations. Poets think about how their work looks on the page; artists think about how it looks on the wall.

In fact, the proposed title is Line for a Walk, derived from a quote by the artist Paul Klee. Depending upon which source you read, he said, ‘A line is simply a dot going for a walk,’ or ‘A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.’ I actually used this analogy to explain to the organiser what it’s like to write a novel in a month, and the phrase stuck with me.

There are side projects planned alongside the main one, but these aren’t quite so rigorously defined yet. Even if they don’t happen, January will not be a dull month.

Giving the Right Direction

Whenever possible, I go to an event called Scrieve. Playwrights are invited to submit a 10-minute extract of their work, where it’s read out by volunteer actors.

Having recently revisited and edited my one-woman play Jennifer Goldman’s Electric Scream, I submitted scenes 1 and 3 for reading. I omitted scene 2 largely because of time constraints.

Some months ago, I’d submitted another extract from later in the play and I was pleased with the person who’d read it out, as it was in exactly the excitable manner I’d intended. I was fortunate to have the same person read it out in this instance. However, while scene 3 was satisfactory, scene 1 made the audience laugh – but it’s supposed to be more serious than the majority of the play.

Playwriting is not for the control freak. It’s a common rookie mistake for the writer to micromanage the actors. By convention, the writer supplies the dialogue and the bare minimum of stage direction, while the director has control over how the play looks and sounds to the audience. There were some great plays at Scrieve, but my script definitely allowed the characters the greatest freedom of movement.

So I’ve taken another look at the direction in scene 1. I can’t control the final outcome, but I can suggest how the dialogue is supposed to be delivered.

The misunderstanding probably arose with the phrase I’d used to describe the character at that point: ‘[…] FORMALLY DRESSED AND CONFIDENT’. The lines were definitely delivered with confidence, but also with humour. This has now been amended to: ‘[…] FORMALLY DRESSED AND SPEAKING IN A SERIOUS TONE’.

Unless I can rope in a willing volunteer, this will probably be the last time I’m able to hear my words spoken by someone else before I submit it to an upcoming event. Nonetheless, it proved invaluable for ironing out a small flaw that changed the nature of a whole scene.

Ramp up the Action

By convention, a stage play is written in three acts. The first act introduces the audience to the characters and their world, the next presents the protagonist with problems to solve, and the third makes those problems even worse until the climax near the end. The same structure can also be borrowed for screenwriting, novels and even short stories.

I’ve recently been editing my play in the hope of having it featured at a festival in April. When I started, it was an hour long, and I need to submit a 20-minute extract. I’ve decided to use the first 20 minutes, the equivalent of the first act.

When creating the extract, however, I realised there was too much exposition and not enough foreshadowing. So I’ve been working to tighten up that first act, eliminating subplots that aren’t referenced again while bringing forward those that are.

While my work isn’t finished yet, I’m now happier with the play than I was. That said, it comes at the cost of shortening the overall length, which will need to be considered at a later time.