Finding the Best Place to Write

writing-427527_640Years ago, indeed, so many years ago that I would prefer not to reveal the actual date, I went to Spain to write a novel. I had the perfect place in mind – a small village, not too far from the Mediterranean coast. It would be a stone-built village, with narrow medieval streets, surrounded by olive groves stretching to the beach and a glimmering cobalt sea. I would take up rooms above a friendly bar/restaurant where I would have meals of hearty stew served by a beautiful cdarked-haired girl who wanted to improve her English. In the evenings, after a hard day’s writing, I would converse with garrulous old fishermen, full of stirring tales of the sea. Naturally, these would provide me with the raw materials for a novel which would stun the literary world.

Such a village did exist, once.   But I never went there. Instead, I took up residence in a tiny eighth floor flat in Barcelona, squeezed between the tourist haven of the Sagrada Familia church (the one with the spiky towers) and the all night ambulance station of the local hospital. Barcelona was and is the city that never sleeps. And neither did I. The message from the myriad bars and restaurants that I frequented was – life is for living, not for scribbling about. My novel, needless to say, did not get written.

7946581522_f7233274beWould I have written the book if I had stayed in my quiet village? Is there an ideal place to write?

Virginia Woolf’s prescription was simple. “A room of one’s own” was all that was necessary, while Stephen King offers some practical advice on what you should do with that room. “If possible,” he says in his wise manual On Writing, “there should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall.”

On the other hand, JK Rowling said the best place to write is in a café. “You don’t have to make your own coffee, you don’t have to feel like you’re in solitary confinement,” she said. But then she had to write in a café – she was too broke to heat her flat, and could not bear to write Harry Potter in fingerless mittens. Incidentally, the café where she penned the first of her astonishingly successful books is now a place of pilgrimage for Potter fans. Last time I was there, an entire team of Italian footballers were being noisily photographed next to a poster of Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid. No longer a quiet place to write, then.

Truman Capote and Toni Morrison recommended motels as their favoured location to write, while Marcel Proust insisted on a cork-lined room. Other published writers have claimed to do their best work in the car, the bathroom and even the local church.

Looking back on my sojourn in Barcelona, I am pretty sure that my problem was not where I had chosen to write. I simply wasn’t ready. When you are ready, you’ll know. As Ernest Hemingway replied when asked this perennial question, “The best place to write is in your head.”

~ Patrick Kelly is a journalist and writer. He has lived in Barcelona and London. He is now studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick.

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The Writing Process

Writing_Process_Flow_ChartRegardless of your abilities, experience or expertise, the writing process fills most people with apprehension. Writers often ask themselves questions such as how am I going to plan my writing project? In addition, will I be able to form a coherent narrative? Finally, what strategies will I use to proofread my work? Writers need to look at writing not as some sort of destination but as a process. Only by doing, including constant refinement and adaption can writers improve their style. Writing is an individualist act and each writer will use a different approach to writing. In some cases, writers may not be sure of the distinct phases that make up the writing process and it is without doubt helpful for writers to be aware of these stages when indulged in the act of writing.

Stage 1: Structure

Another name for this stage is planning in which the writer will effectively plan what they are going to write. Like all the writing stages, this is an intensive process, which challenges the reader to utilise a wide variety of skills including research, writing, brainstorming ideas and topic formation. Writers who do not pay adequate attention to this stage will have difficultly later in the writing process, as their project will lack direction.

Stage 2: Drafting

Depending on the writer, the drafting stage can be quiet difficult. For many a blank screen fills them with dread as they struggle to get something written down. When this happens, free writing is a useful entry point into your writing. Free writing involves writing something. Anything that comes into your head write it down be it your shopping list for tomorrow, a schedule of the bills that you have to pay. This may seem a pointless exercise and individuals may ask what does this have to do with my History essay? However, the more you write regardless of the topic, the more ideas it will stimulate. The key point to this stage is that drafting is a fluid stage that you will be modifying at a later stage. There is no fixed number of drafts that a writers need to go through in order to produce a credible piece of work. All that writing critics can say on this is that it takes as many drafts as the writer believes necessary albeit within the time constraints of the writing project.

Stage 3: Revising

Having produced a series of drafts it is time to bring all your ideas into one piece of writing. In some case, paragraphs and ideas that you thought were applicable will no longer be necessary. In some case, this stage will highlight deficiencies in the writer’s draft, which will require further development. Linking paragraphs is a crucial part of writing and this is an area, which writers need to look at in the revising stage of the writing process. “Do my paragraphs make sense?” If so, “Are they in the correct order or do I need to switch them around?” Questions like these are important to consider, as they will stimulate the writer into deeper refection concerning their writing.

Stage 4: Proofreading

As will all stages in the writing process this is a crucial phase. However, in many cases writers in the proofreading stage can overlook this exercise. Having completed an ardours writing task, some writer may fall into the trap of complacency in the proofreading stage. However, without due attention in terms of proofreading an excellent piece of writing can suffer. Writer need to address Spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, punctuation, presentation, and capitalisations in this stage. If not an A, paper can quickly turn into a mediocre B at best. A major problem with the proofreading stage is that the writer is overly accustomed to the work. Writers cannot see errors which other can because of their closeness to the project. Therefore, a productive method of proofreading is to give your work to friend, peer, or family member to read through. Because if their detachment to the writing they are more likely to pick out error in the work. Finally, reading aloud is a productive proofreading exercise because verbalising the work will help the writer to recognise any errors in terms of sentence coherence and meaning.

Remember writing is a process so keep writing and best of luck. Most of all enjoy!

~By Pádraig Ó Loingsigh

Why Stories Give Life Meaning

once-upon-a-time1As my two-year-old daughter begs me for another story, it makes me think about the power of stories in our lives.

The child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, maintained that children’s fairy tales speak directly to the human subconscious, helping children to make sense of a chaotic world. This is because fairy tales and folklore have essentially been distilled in the telling, from one generation to the next. The verbal aspect of telling stories to children being of huge importance as each story is tweaked according to the immediate reaction of the child.

However, fiction is important to adults too. The universal importance of fiction to human beings can’t be denied.

We are immersed in stories in our daily lives. There are the anecdotes we share with each other every day, our favourite novels, TV shows and songs, not to mention daily news feeds through social media and increasingly the creation of fictional worlds in gaming. It’s something marketers have noticed some time ago – selling their products with a story is hugely effective. Even when we sleep, our brains are creating dream stories.

However, it is not simply a matter of entertainment or escapism. Modern studies in evolutionary psychology show that humans depend on the construction of narrative to exist. We narrate to create order in a chaotic world. Our ability to ‘spin a yarn’ is not some accidental by-product of evolution. It is essential to our survival. In the race for the ‘survival of the fittest’, the tale-telling humans won. It’s more than the educational aspect of sharing vital information; our ability to imagine that something might be painful or a bad ‘idea’ protects us from danger. Imagining what the future will be like keeps us moving forward. What would we be doing right now, if we couldn’t conjure up a fictional tomorrow?

In this digital age, the rise of clubs such as The Moth Club proves that there’s still an appetite for the old fashioned art of verbal storytelling. The gathering together of a group to share stories is much more than a social event. It is well known that the sharing of stories (and even the writing of stories that no one may ever read) is therapeutic. The cathartic effect of group storytelling is already well known. Many Arts therapists use a method called ‘the six-part story’, to facilitate a sort of indirect and nonintrusive communication of experience. Narrative therapy helps people to write – and if necessary redefine – their own life story and to defend their personal story rights. The story we believe about ourselves has a huge impact on our mental health.

The global organisation, Narrative4, believes that sharing stories has the potential to be life changing. I plan to learn more about it Wednesday, November 5th here in UL. In the meantime, I’m off to read my little girl another story.

~Linda Fennelly

Truth, Fiction and my Grandmother’s Diary

4892370217_0ee2dee629_zThe truth is a strange thing in fiction. We students of the MA in Creative Writing are becoming familiar with the idea that fiction needs to be more believable than reality – that grey, unfathomable world.

I imagine most writers see the fictional world as superior to the real one. We are closer to our characters than to the people we touch and see. Fiction’s truth comes from empathy; whereas reality’s truth comes from fact and we would much rather empathise than be knowledgeable.

And, of course, every act of writing is an act of fictionalizing – that passing through language into the world of subjectivity. And this is the main reason truth eludes not only fiction writers but everyone who speaks or even sees; all of us subjecting the world to interpretation: passing it through the medium of language and the soul.

But that does not mean we don’t owe a duty to the truth, or at least to the capital ‘t’ ‘Truth’ when we are writing fiction.

It is (actually) easy to dismiss reality when you hear about the man who woke up at his own funeral or when the woman next door has a baby without ever knowing she was pregnant or when you run into your first cousin walking down the street in Kolkatta. The joke: “you couldn’t write this stuff!” becomes mantra, because the reality is simply not that believable.

But the best writers haven’t lost sight of truth and are not afraid of it, no matter how ridiculous it is. They know how to tell all of it and tell it slant.

My grandmother always kept a Diary. Sometimes an entry would just be a word or two: “Mary’s debs” and other times there would be a full entry recounting a day trip to Dun Laoghaire, the first day of a new job, thoughts, feelings, hopes for the future and so on. It’s not always proper to read someone’s (secret! shh!) diary but I do remember sitting in my Grandmother’s living room once and she had her hands folded on her lap as my aunt read out an entry where her daughter moves to France. We were wide-eyed with intrigue; pleased to be included in this secret world. And my grandmother didn’t mind much, all those years later.

And the intrigue that most people have for these (secret! shh!) documents made me think about the truth and the ways in which we release our private little truths. Because I think diaries are important. I think they can help us unravel our confusion about the world. And I think people don’t keep diaries enough these days. We are consuming media at an extreme rate: we blog, we create profiles and persona and characters for ourselves. We instagram our photos and filter them and fictionalize our lives. But we are losing touch with the things that bring us close to who we are.

Writers who keep diaries know themselves. They write the truth about themselves in ugly ways. Anyone who’s ever written a diary entry will know how it feels to read back years later and cringe. But the cringe factor is invaluable when it comes to fiction. Writers who keep diaries write fiction which expresses an intangible truth; a cringey truth; a truth which makes readers say things like: “is this about you?” which, no matter how frustrating, is a huge compliment.

~Niamh Donnelly