Tag Archives: first drafts

Grace, fluency, and facility… Poet Chris Kinsey on writing and re-writing.

Writers are notoriously curious about how everybody else does it. Apart from the endless fascination with other peoples’ process, we also know there are wonderful lessons to be learned, tips to gather, knowledge to be shared. A few weeks ago the poet Chris Kinsey shared a document with me which she had written for her students about writing and re-writing. I’m delighted she gave me permission to reproduce that here.

 

Chris Kinsey: A personal view of writing and re-writing.

 

I write mainly out of excitement with experiences and from a desire to re-enact and re-live them.

I want to record the physicality and sensations of certain experiences. (Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and Gerard Manley Hopkins were the first to make me want to pay attention and write.)

I write in order to find out what it is I want to write. Many writers prefer to have a plan but I’ve never liked to fit into the Procrustian bed of a plan. I need to make discoveries to maintain my motivation. Good ideas mostly fail because they’re good and there’s nothing to work out. It can feel like drudgery to record them.

First drafts are like finding a load of fireworks – full of excitement at experimenting with voices and viewpoints and coining words and images with the most exact visual or aural effects. This stage can be intoxicating. I chase a stream of consciousness, memory and sensation as fast as I can and as close as I can to any event which excites me to write.

Re-writing is best done a day or two after the ‘first thoughts, best thoughts’ rush.

Sometimes it’s as painful and humiliating as a hangover – everything grates or clunks or seems hackneyed, clichéd, laborious, repetitive, monotonous, vague, waffling, tongue-twisterly, O.T.T……. Sometimes it only feels this way. Our feelings are not always the best guide to the quality of our work; especially if they’ve just been hurt by discovering that a first draft doesn’t represent total satisfaction or perfection. Usually there are plenty of nuggets to harvest and frequently this leads to the true or vivid aspects of the subject declaring themselves and a theme or shape emerges. Voice or tone stabilises and distillation begins.

Crop peripheral ideas and images, focus the main ones.

Strive for the most exact, apt images and nouns. Tone up verbs. Tweak and play with word orders (save every change – you may want to revert to an earlier form). Try your piece out on the ear. Cut clichés, repetitions, catch phrases, etc. Etc. Rest. Let it lie.

Return later  – this is the hard part – make sure you haven’t cut some crucial part. And this is the really hard part – make sure you haven’t stifled the life of your piece by over determining it.

Hope for grace, fluency, and facility. Try your work out on someone whose feedback you trust and respect. Someone who will tell you where the work made them stumble is valuable.

Good, spontaneous-sounding, ‘natural’, pleasure-to-read work, often takes between 15 and 30 drafts.

 

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With thanks to Chris.

Copyright of the above remains with Chris Kinsey 16/2/14.

 

New beginnings and first drafts…. and in praise of rural touring…

Woman of Flowers. Kaite O'Reilly for Forest Forge Theatre Company

Woman of Flowers. Kaite O’Reilly for Forest Forge Theatre Company

As the new year approaches, I have a new project: a commission from Forest Forge to write a play for their 2014 national tour.

I first worked with Forest Forge theatre company in 2011, when the artistic director, Kirstie Davies, had the inspired idea of producing my play ‘peeling’ and then touring it to village halls in rural areas. ‘peeling’ is a metatheatrical exploration of acting, eugenics, soup recipes, disability and Deaf politics and ‘The Trojen Women’, performed by one Deaf and two disabled performers across a variety of theatre languages… It’s a set text at various universities in Europe, Japan and elsewhere in the world for its radical politics and experimental form.

What I love about Forest Forge and Kirstie’s vision is alongside their national touring, they bring plays into the heart of a rural community – places often overlooked for cultural provision, many miles from building-based theatres and arts centres. What I particularly love is Kirstie’s decision to bring what might be perceived as ‘difficult’, or challenging plays. She doesn’t patronise her audience and well understands how people living outside cities have as broad a taste as those living within, and have just as strong a desire to see ‘edgy’ work. I’m always frustrated by the capital’s assumption that the ‘important’ work happens in the city, when with companies like Knee High, and the National Theatres of Wales and Scotland, some of the most innovative and risk-taking work has been taking place for years very far from the metropolis.

There is also an assumption I’ve come across in city-based theatre circles that rural audiences are somehow less adventurous or ‘able’ for work that pushes the boundaries. As a theatre maker, and someone who lives rurally, I couldn’t disagree more. Back in 2011, when I visited the production when it was touring, performers Ali Briggs, Kiruna Stamell and Nickie Miles-Wildin all spoke of the astonishing response to the work from the audience.  Roger Finn, an audience member wrote on the Forest Forge website: This is what I want from theatre – to be taken into new territories; to experience deep, human contact; to have my brain tickled and to discover new places in my heart. A true joy to go on this bold adventure. http://www.forestforge.co.uk/shows/peeling

As a playwright, and as someone who lives an hour’s drive from the nearest ‘cultural centre’, it feels a real privilege for my work to be brought to the audience in their communities – but we really need to challenge the assumption the edgy or important work happens only in cities.

And so to my burgeoning new play, set far from a city, on the edge of a forest… Woman of Flowers is inspired by the story of Blodeuwedd, from the ancient Welsh treasure The Mabinogion – a story I have known for decades, since before moving to live in Wales, and one which has captured my imagination.

I’m only starting out on this process, but the script won’t be an adaptation of this great classic, I’ll simply be taking themes and ideas from the original and try to give it a contemporary twist. So far my Woman of Flowers is a stylised telling of desire, duty, adultery, murder and revenge set in an isolated, rural household on the edge of a forest. The production will be presented in spoken and projected English with theatricalised British Sign Language. I will write about the process when the work is sturdy enough to bring into the public gaze, so until then… Good luck with all your writing and creativity….