Monday, 22 March 2010

Tell me how you write - Part 6 - Clare Grant

Here's writer and editor Clare Grant, talking tools, interviews, and a rather nice writing-is-like (or better than) -gardening line.

This picture shows the stationery round-up that happens whenever find myself having tool problems. I empty all the pots and trays in our flat. I check every single pen on a scrap of paper. Then I sharpen every pencil. Pens that don’t work, and pencils with shattered leads get binned. It’s very satisfying. Finally, I redistribute everything around the flat again, making sure that all the coloured pens are corralled in the kitchen where they won’t be picked up by a person wanting to sign an official form. Coloured pens bother me – I used to edit the letters pages of a newspaper, so in my world, coloured ink equals crazy.

This round-up happened because my pen flew apart during a phone interview. I threw the pieces aside and grabbed a pencil – and found the lead had been rubbed to a dull circle. I snatched another pen – it didn’t work.

The subject wondered politely why I didn’t use a recorder.

“Goodness, I’ve never thought of that!”

The truth is, I didn’t spend all those lunch hours learning bloody shorthand in order to use a bleeding dictaphone.

The white notebooks are for interviews. I have two or three on the go. When I get to the end of the book, I turn it round and write on the backs of the pages – which are nubbly and veiny from the writing on the front. Total chaos ensues: I can never find the notes I want, although I aspire to a system of sticky note markers (that’s the blue square under the letter opener).

I try to type up my interview notes the same day, even if it means sneaking back on the computer while my husband gets ready for bed.

“Are you working? It’s after 10pm.”

“No darling, I’m looking at porn and flirting with old school friends.”

I want to be able to hear the interviewee as I write, and if I don’t get the notes written up quickly, I lose the voice. Listen to me! You’d think I’d been interviewing Alain de Botton for Harper’s Bazaar. All I do is write two features a week for the local paper.

The black notebook and the pink one in the middle are for prompt writing – Sarah Salway got me into that. She supplies her fans with weekly prompts, and I write two sides a day.

These prompts are storystuff – they’re the raw material. Sometimes I’ll be writing and thinking “This is rubbish. Stop embarrassing yourself. Why do you even bother?” But two months later, I’ll flick through and there’s a story seed shining in the middle of the page. That’s one of those moments when I think “Writing is actually more exciting than gardening.” I type up the seeds, and then add a small, allotted number of words a day (36, 154, 73) – it’s slow, but it works for me.

The other pink notebook is for morning pages – I write two sides of anything that pops into my head. It clears the brain static. The habit is a left-over from the Artist’s Way – a programme of healing for damaged creatives. I discovered that I’m much less damaged than I thought.

That black notebook’s a Moleskine. I’m disappointed about the elastic; and because ink soaks right through the paper – I bet Hemmingway and Chatwin never put up with that sort of thing. It goes in my handbag, and I use it to record anything interesting. Also to-do lists. When I’m bored, I give the pages complex frames. You can see when I’m in a down period because the borders become more and more elaborate. Ink stamps and stickers get involved. At busy times, I don’t make to-do lists because it’s too frightening.

The column of artist inks and the glass pen are for morning pages and prompts – it’s perfectly acceptable to use mad colours when no-one will see.

Clare Grant writes the blog Three Beautiful Things, in which she lists three things that have amused or delighted her. She has been doing this for nearly six years. It got her on to the Saga Wise List, and 170 people have written their own beautiful things on their blogs. Some of them even do it regularly. Clare has been paid for a Three Beautiful Things book which never made it into print; and she is now looking for another publisher to pay her all over again. Clare is 32 and works as a freelance journalist and editor. She writes short stories and radio plays, but not very successfully. In her spare time, she is an enthusiastic wife. She is fond of gardening.


Nik Perring said...

How interesting! Thanks for sharing.

Particularly love the photo and having different books for different things (I'm like that too).

I use a slightly bigger Moleskine (with a fountain pen) and I've not struggled with ink soaking through - that IS disappointing.

Best of luck with finding another publisher!


Teresa Stenson said...

Thanks for your comment, Nik. Just today I got myself an A5 Moleskine, I'm looking at it now, it's lovely. I don't use a fountain pen though, but I love it when the biro compresses in a bit and you run your hand over a completed page it feels really nice... and you feel really productive.

Clare - I love that line about looking at porn and flirting with old school friends. That's what every paranoid partner thinks their other half is doing online.

Thanks so much for sharing, Clare.

Jenn Ashworth said...

I love this picture - seeing all those implements laid out on the sheet reminds me of a crime scene or a mortuary, not sure why.

In fact, yes, I do know why. I'm twisted, that's why.

Great post. :)

Teresa Stenson said...

Thanks for commenting, (twisted) Jen. Just 2 weeks until your guest post! It's a good one, everybody...