Tag Archives: on writing

Thoughts before lift off

On the eve of flying out to Taiwan to begin work on The 9 Fridas for The Taipei International Festival, some inspirational quotations seem apt:

The first from the ever encouraging Kurt Vonnegut, reminding me we need to take risks creatively, trying the new, the unknown, with no guarantee (or safety net):

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

The next is from another personal favourite, the intense and pertinent William Faulkner:

 “Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” 

The final thought is a surprising choice for me – not a woman, not a writer, but Steve Jobs:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

I don’t know if it’s just people in our profession who find strength and succour in the ‘Patience Strong’ aphorisms of others… Maybe it’s because it’s such a lonely and difficult path we follow, without guarantees of success, financial reward or even personal satisfaction. To create seems such a vital compulsion, and one fraught with difficulties. It can be soothing to find like minds – or even words to live by.

More anon, from Taipei.


Start now.

Start now. Start from where you are. Don’t wait for the muse, or the magical moment, or the light shining on the lake viewed from the perfect writing spot you’ve never looked for but just know it’s out there and when found (although you don’t look) will make everything fall into place and the words onto the page or screen. Start now. Don’t wait for a new book or computer or pen which will make the work effortless. The work is hard, always is, always has been, always will be, although there may be those few moments when  the components line up like the mechanism in a chiming clock and the words are precise and striking: a state of grace, to be savoured. But mainly work will be filled will struggle and frustration and disappointments where there is never enough time or quiet or space to formulate ideas, never mind actualise them. And despite the rejections and the occasional sense of failure, we must keep on, for this is what we were made to do – to write, to express, to create, to imagine, to communicate, to think, to explore, to elucidate, to embody. And never forget how fortunate we are to be doing what we do.

It’s New Year and that time for new beginnings or encouraging words. Here’s more from Debbie Millman:

I recommend the following course of action form those who are just beginning their careers or for those like me who may be midway through: heed the words of Robert Frost. Start with a big fat lump in your throat. Start with a profound sense of wrong, a deep homesickness, or a crazy love sickness and run with it. If you imagine less, less is what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now.

Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design. Debbie Millman. Quoted on http://www.brainpickings.org

Happy new year and courage, energy and fortitude to all…..

On Writing….. David Rhodes

‘I’ve been writing since about the age of fourteen. Somewhere around that time I discovered that herding words into stories often gave rise to strangely satisfying states of mind – agitated, but satisfying. Maybe I was a little like a herding dog. That first glimpse of a pasture with bunched-together sheep had a different effect upon me than, say, a companion dog that looks at the same pasture and thinks ‘Sheep, who cares?’ As individuals we seek out activities we can lose ourselves in, and those activities, paradoxically, reveal things we couldn’t otherwise know about ourselves.’   David Rhodes. Writer of ‘Driftless’

As a farmer’s daughter, the herding metaphor about writing was very attractive and held some resonance….

I’m in the wintry midwest of America and recently discovered this extraordinary Wisconsin writer, publishing his first book in three decades, following a motorcycle accident when he became physcially disabled.

You can read ‘Driftless’, David Rhodes’ first book in thirty years at:http://www.amazon.com/Driftless-David-Rhodes/dp/1571310681/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1388082386&sr=1-1&keywords=driftless+by+david+rhodes

20 Questions…. Jon Gower

Continuing my new series in asking writers, directors, actors, designers, poets, sculptors, artists, burlesque performers, playwrights,  choreographers, and other artists who catch the attention 20 questions about process, creativity and their work…. My third interviewee, Jon Gower…

Jon Gower. Photographer Emyr Jenkins

Jon Gower. Photographer Emyr Jenkins


Jon Gower has written fifteen books on subjects as diverse as a disappearing island in Chesapeake Bay – An Island Called Smith – which won the John Morgan award, Real Llanelli – a west Wales tour in psycho-geography – and the fiction of Dala’r Llanw, Uncharted and Big Fish. His most recent work of non-fiction isThe Story of Wales, which accompanies a landmark TV series and his latest Welsh language novel, Y Storïwr, won the Wales Book of the Year award in 2012.

20 Questions…. Jon Gower

What first drew you to writing?    

My primary school teacher at Ysgol Dewi Sant in Llanelli, Mr. Thomas – known to us as “Tommy Tomatoes” – turned up at a talk I gave recently in the town and handed me a copy of school essays I wrote when I was nine or ten.  The fact that he had kept them all this time – they would have been written around 1968 – along with the fact that Mr. Thomas was still alive made this a life event. but the quality of the writing, too, impressed me. I was at that age reading Defoe, Louisa May Alcott and Conan Doyle. Reading avidly would eventually lead to writing, as it so often does.

What was your big breakthrough?

I’m still waiting for it.  Time enough.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?   

Finding time, as I have a young family and a lot of projects on the go at the same time, always.

Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you? 

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ is the only book I finished reading and then started reading it straight through immediately, despite it’s being four in the morning.  I was a student at the time, so this was maybe 1980.  This mesmerizing novel still exerts a quiet but insistent influence on my writing which, even now, tends towards Welsh magical realism.

What’s more important: form or content?                                    

Content, though choices of  form as regards, say, length – short story or novel, essay or book – are clearly pretty important.

How do you know when a project is finished?                                                

I don’t.  Even when my recent novel ‘Y Storiwr’ was at the final proof stage my editor wasn’t sure that it was finished.  Truth be told, I was trusting a bit of the final writing to the reader!

Do you read your reviews?                                                           

Yes, and they can hurt.  A lot.  Or make the heart sing.

What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?                                                                       

Read lots.  Read attentively.  Read widely.

What work of art would you most like to own?                                 

John Martin’s ‘The Plains of Heaven, ‘ though it’s so big we’d have to move house and I’d feel to guilty about other people not seeing it to want to have it to myself.    51e9Dn3Pm4L._AA160_

What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?           

That everyone has a book in them or, rather, that they would know how to write it. 

What are you working on now?                                                                      

Just finished half of a Welsh language stage play (which has given me the time to answer these questions) and am in the final few furlongs of a collection of short stories, also in Welsh.

What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created? 

Simple. John Updike’s entire output.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?      

That the real work comes after the first draft.

What’s your greatest ambition?    

To please the reader.

How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?  

It’s a necessary part of it all, not dissimilar to the nerves felt by an actor before curtain up or a rugby player before kick off.  You’re never satisfied, though the occasional good sentence might torch some pride in you.

What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?    

 A reviewer for New Welsh Review condemned my latest collection of stories, ‘Too Cold For Snow’  as being journalistic and cliched in their language. I work too hard on language for this to be true.  Had the critic been a proper writer it would have hurt more than it did.  It still hurt, though.

Too Cold For Snow And the best thing?                                                                                        

Richard Ford praised the self-same collection and his opinion graces the front cover.  For a moment I felt that Ford was a peer but then the old, necessary insecurity set in!

If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?                                                                                  

It’s a river, sometimes running swift and true, at other times meandering slowly, or worse, coming up to the weir, or did I mean the wire?

What is your philosophy or life motto?                                                        

Life is about creating things – be it conversation, babies, friendships, art.

What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?          

The best stuff often comes unbidden, and in the middle of the night.  Also, if you’re writing you’re always writing, even as you sleep.  So be prepared to get up to write it down.

What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask? 

Why do I do it?  Because I have to.  It’s an acceptable, realistic and manageable version of something grand, such as having a destiny.

For information on Jon’s books, go to his Amazon page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jon-Gower/e/B001KDY5WA/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1364235160&sr=1-2-ent

Too Cold For Snow http://www.amazon.co.uk/Too-Cold-Snow-Jon-Gower/dp/1908069848