Thursday, 17 December 2009

Tell me how you write - Part 1 - Jo Stanley

I have several modes: business stuff straight onto the machine; journals in 0.7 black gel pens; fiction and poems written on plain A4 with well-sharpened 2B pencils, written in mind-map form, often starting half-way down the page, for some reason.

Place and position matters. The main work is at the computer (too bloody endlessly), and it matters that I had an ergonomist set up the right arrangements for me: kneely chair, flat panel screen at the right height, raked keyboard, gel wrist rest, inspiring mouse mat (Virgina Woolf in sepia, actually). To mitigate the square, hard, plastic, boring insult that the screen is I’ve decorated with3-D objects that insist on my visceralness, my creativity. They round off the machine and give it texture. Mainly they’re the remnants of some art therapeutic work I did after losing a baby in 1993 but quickly rediscovering how much writing and painting are to me about giving birth. I had a vision of myself with spring onion knees, daffodil tits and sunflower shoulder blades, harvests whooshing down from my fanny; I’m the absolute epitome of creativity. These symbols are bluetacked onto the monitor’s border.

Alongside them is my chunk of rose quartz, to remind me that love is what matters in life. A yellow ‘well done’ sticker from my dear writing friend Maggie - to be applied with high-handed aplomb to any task I do, as appropriate - keeps my spirits up when I remember to notice it. The silver screen stands on 79" x 34" smoked green glass IKEA dining table that I keep as empty as possible, because the more space there is around me, the more I can think calmly and widely as I write. The desk is set to look out of a south-facing window, overlooking Soyland Hill in the Pennines. That wooded sweeping slope’s is a fine target for blank gawping.

Duration and intensity of writing is important. Mainly I just slog and slog. So maybe the most important writing tool is my kitchen timer. The current one (they break down) is fat, scarlet, apple-shaped, and from John Lewis in Southampton. It’s set to tell me to take a break from the computer. Which I ignore. I do too little stretching backwards and outwards. And I do a lot of leaning forward, elbows on the wrist-rest, saying ‘errm’ at the screen, gazing as if its blank areas are going to offer useful answers, as crystal balls do - of course.

The best writing (in terms of how it satisfies the deepest me) is in bed, by hand. I like to do it with all the phones unplugged AND turned to silent mode, the door locked, almost naked, and with a sense that I have an absolute right to put the world on hold for a few hours. Doing this sort of writing is almost the same as doing watercolour painting for art therapy. Indeed, often I’ll have the Bijou mini paint box in one hand and the pencil in the other. This sort of writing is absolutely not performative, not done with any audience in mind. It’s about encountering the Truth - the sort with a capital T. The process makes me cry good tears and get up whole. Back to the machine, where I might go on and shape that work if I can spare the time, or back to the dutiful work-writing. But that time-out always brings about the wonderful state of rasa. Right and left brain working together in harmony - the creator and the editor. Wotta luverly couple they make, bless em. How essential their unity is to my sanity.

About Jo:

I’m a writer. No, I’m an explorer of ideas and psyches and histories, who sometimes puts useful words down on paper. With serendipity the marks and ideas make something delightful together. Mainly I write accessible factual history books about off-centre subjects, e.g. women pirates. Really my heart’s in fiction, including plays. But it’s harder to get them published/staged. I’ve been writing since I was 15 - that’s 45 years. About 8 per cent is published, the rest is in filing drawers and inside a retinue of outgrown computers, some dead. Being an ex-journo is useful. It means I’m not precious about Cree- ay- tiv- it-eh; I can do short sentences without literary angst; and I feel absolutely entitled to begin sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but.’

And I want to change the world. And I’m sad. And I love my cat, and my mates. And I truly believe patisseries may be humankind’s best invention. But they should combined with arts cinemas, poetry readings spaces, massage rooms, moors and revolutionary rallies. The photo shows me dressing up as a pirate for a publicity shot, in Taranaki, New Zealand. Yeah, I love playing and showing off. And I like it when those sides of me get together with the writer. I’m very conscious of how constrained my upper body is, on the computer, by comparison to that swashbuckler out on the wide sea. It’s a reminder of what matters - exploration and fun, not niminy-piminy wordsmithing.

Jo's website
Jo's Blog on Gender and the sea


Nik Perring said...

How interesting.

I know a few other writers who are able to write in bed but, for me, sleep would be sooo tempting!

Thanks for sharing.


Teresa Stenson said...

Glad you found it interesting, Nik.

I've never written in bed either, it just seems wrong. For me, anyway - I love how Jo makes it sound though.

Anonymous said...
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JR's Thumbprints said...

My writing is slow, methodical, and often interrupted. It's funny how life always seems to get in the way.

Anonymous said...

That’s Too nice, when it comes in india hope it can make a Rocking place for youngster.. hope that come true.

Rachel Fenton said...

I write in/on bed just like that, too! No point me emailing now to tell you!

Enjoyed reading this a lot.

Happy New Year!

Fellowes said...

I, too, write in my bed but usually on those lazy Sundays when I can't move. Good article!