Thursday, 17 October 2013

The gravity of the situation

Our Rainwater Hub - water, water, everywhere!

I nearly titled this piece 'When in Rome' but I've never actually been there. Gravity, however, is a longstanding friend and helps me keep my feet on the ground. It's also the inspiration behind this post and its three different angles: Inspiration, the Practice of Writing, and The Garden.


The Garden

The image above is of a Rainwater Hub, which transformed our garden over the summer from a British Sahara to somewhere self-sufficient in water, thanks to its ability to gravity feed other water butts up to 150 feet away from the Hub.

It was great for us and we now have four butts linked by hoses. Here's the website, which also contains clips on how to set everything up and other useful information: http://www.rainwaterhub.co.uk/. So if you're tired of dragging a hose from the tap, or lugging watering cans around, this could be the Christmas present to drop hints about. The principle behind the Rainwater Hub is the same one that the Romans used to transport water over great distances. 

Got that? Okay, let's move on with the theme.


The Practice of Writing

My take on the gravity principle for writing is that everything you write builds momentum in your writing practice. You learn something, you develop your craft and - perhaps most importantly of all - you have more material to promote yourself, sell, or get contracted. It can help to stick with a genre of subject, so that each piece, story or novel has a connection with the next piece you write, and so on. Every success lays firmer foundations for the future by building up your confidence and your portfolio. Each success also owes a debt to the past, to all the writing time you put in when nothing appeared to be happening. On the basis, it's never too late to start!

It's easier to secure writing jobs when you can share portfolio work, both as an example of what you've had printed / published and as a way of demonstrating your subject knowledge. It helps to know where you want to end up in terms of the type of writing you want to do. That can mean saying no to some opportunities, or being clear at the outset which paths you intend to follow. 

To give an example, I love short stories and will happily participate in competitions and submit material to anthologies. However, I'm selective about what I commit to because I know the types of story I prefer to write (plus the word count and tone). I don't write literary fiction per se, because it's not a genre I'm overly familiar with. Time and experience have taught me that suspense stories, sci-fi and what I'll call urban tales seem to form most easily in my brain. 

All that said, gravity and momentum can sometimes take you to strange places. Expertise built up in one area or genre can also give you tools and techniques that are themselves transferrable. A filler magazine column I currently write is directly linked to some website writing I did a few years back, which itself came about because of joke writing* and sketch writing experience with The Treason Show and the News Revue. And all of that humour writing has many of its roots in As Above So Below magazine (see elsewhere on this blog).

The techniques you might pick up and transport to pastures new include mind-mapping (which I used to call cross-referencing until someone pointed out the error of my ways), working to a deadline, identifying key themes and developing an overall concept, and how to research effectively. 


Inspiration

Sometimes, like the rainwater butt by our front gate, the end result can seem a hell of a long way from our starting point and our (drain) pipe dreams. It's easy to forget that we have everything to draw inspiration from, and that our role as writers is to narrow things down in a piece of writing, to specialise and refine until we meet a brief (even if it's one that we have imposed). Similarly, half a rooftop's worth of rain goes into the gutter, down a drain and out to the garden where we want it to be. 

When it comes to inspiration you can't control when it will come or if there will be sufficient momentum for it to go anywhere. But you can increase your chances of success by being prepared, by being clear about the sort of writing you want to do, and by committing to develop yourself as a writer. I submit to you that no piece of writing is an end in itself, unless we choose to make it so. 



* By way of illustration, I recently had a gag performed on Radio 4 Extra's Newsjack. I knew which website to check and I knew how to put something together based on topical news.

3 comments:

  1. Nice analogy stretching ;) Seriously though, I think it is a good way of looking at it. Potential Energy (which, if my GCSE science serves me correctly, gravity is) cannot be destroyed, only changed into something else. So if you've stored up thousands of words of writing, it's got to convert into some sort of momentum!

    My running coach used to say you can't take miles out of the bank unless you put miles into the bank... you can't expect to be able to race for miles and miles if you haven't trained for miles and miles. Same sort of thing!

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  2. Hi Chloe - succinctly put. Writers sometimes seem to focus on the results rather than on generating potential (and I say that having had a novel rejected this week). Plus, as you can surmise, we were so thrilled with our Rainwater Hub that I wanted to tell everyone about it somehow.

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