pitch dark where stars whiten at the death —albeit short-lived— of the streetlamp cycle-timed for conservation frogs creak and croak he hears them echoed reflected deflected from neighbouring houses with windows open to the calm evening air that carries the din there are no thieves conspiring or ne’er-do-wells whispering plans for mischief only frogs those night-sounds that bounce against constructions and preconceptions
Using vintage lenses makes photography fun – and you get to (re)learn the basics. Manipulation through aperture, shutter speed and ISO, along with manual focus, forces you to concentrate on the subject and the desired outcome. Search those old lenses out. Yard sales, parents’ or grandparents’ closets, online, second hand shops, all can yield cool glass that will guarantee hours of enjoyment and that polishing of your “artistic” skills. Don’t just focus on the internet darlings; any old lens will yield something different, often for a few dollars, or even for free. The flaws or imperfections will give your shots that character that breathes life into the images. No need for apps or filters.
Below: images shot with Fuji XT3, inexpensive Fotasy adapter, Minolta Rokkor 45mm f2 (free, from someone clearing out his basement).
Make your writing unusual
One of the best aspects of creative writing is the ability to manipulate, transform, mystify. Taking the everyday and making it sublime, ridiculous, awe-inspiring is a skill any writer should hone.
Anyone can describe. It takes a special talent to change what one sees in order to make in interesting, provocative, evocative for a reader. The “stuff” is the same, that original inspiration, but the execution is what counts. Without the ability to engage and entertain, we would all be but scribes, recording the everyday.
When you are writing, exercising the voice and vibe that makes the writing yours, remember that you must run everything through the filter of you. Failure to make the world around you yours, presented in such a way as to bring your world to others, will only result in boring retelling or rewording.
Always ask yourself:
● Is it presented in a new way?
● Is it exciting?
● Will people care?
the dry well echoes
every sunday afternoon
with a coin secretly
palmed from the
the tinny reverb plinked
all the way down
to the dirt
in the empty bucket
the child mutters
amid cicada shells
twice-dead and desiccated
picked from nearby trees
on the backs of
dancing at his feet
the old man
from the bowl of his pipe
looking at his boots
speckled whitish-grey –
kid they all look for water
before they die
you’re just wasting
and that money
wishing her back
she won’t come –
you may as well’ve been
praying for rain
From Sonofabitch Poems, R L Raymond, 2011
If you know where to look…
We have always been told to learn from our mistakes. It’s a simple enough concept: don’t repeat things that don’t work or things that are bad for you. Wear shoes when you walk on gravel. Don’t stick your tongue to the pole in the schoolyard in winter. Simple.
When it comes to writing, the concept is a little more confusing. Picture the stereotypical frustrated writer, sitting alone in a room, staring at a blank page. Then inspiration strikes! Frantic writing… then, a page is torn, crumpled, tossed across the room in disgust. Zoom in on the pencil. This time, the author is on to something… a sentence, and then, SCRATCH SCRATCH SCRATCH, SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE… blacked out in disgust, as illegible as a classified document. Maybe another ball of paper, thrown away. Zoom out. Scribbles. Balls of paper. Frustration. Fade to black.
For writers it is almost second nature to destroy what we don’t like about what we just put to paper. Why? Maybe we worry that someone will read these unacceptable lines (and care). Maybe we think that the bad stuff will corrupt everything around it, like an algae bloom in the crystal clear pool of our genius. Nonsense.
Never throw away
Reread your drafts
Reread your journals
If you’ve thrown away a draft, or erased parts of it in one way or another, you can never learn from it. And don’t pretend to yourself that you’ll remember why it was ‘terrible;’ most times you can’t remember, a few hours later, that good stuff that comes to you as you fall asleep. If it’s gone, it’ll be repeated.
There is also another great reason to make your mistakes visible. When you reread your draft, your notes, your journal, you’ll see the
worlds words (wow, an example right here! I meant ‘words’ but typed ‘worlds’ so I’m going to leave it) under the strikethrough. Those were your original thoughts, your original gut instincts. Once you’ve removed yourself from the critical, “this sucks,” heat-of-the-moment hatred of your words, maybe you’ll see there was something salvageable.
Maybe it’s even better than just salvaging a little bit of writing. Maybe you’ll see an error, juxtaposed beside another word, another concept, and it will spark something totally new and fresh and different and inspiring. I remember writing feverishly, writing and crossing out (because I actually take my own advice and never erase), and coming up dry. A page of, well, nothing. But, under one pencil line, I read the word ‘ghost’ which had been either a written-typo (whatever those are called) or a weird mental connection I’d lost as soon as I’d written it. Whatever the case, in the nonsensical context, the ‘ghost’ idea became a fun little poem, using bits and pieces of the unrelated stuff that happened around the error. The original had NOTHING to do with what I eventually wrote. And the word ‘ghost’ didn’t even appear in the final piece.
If I had thrown out the page, or blacked out the ghost, I would never have found those interesting, accidental interplays that made the mistake worthwhile.
Keep the paper smooth, in your journal, notepad, binder, and cherish your strikethroughs, for there may be nuggets of inspiration in those words you originally thought garbage.
A photograph that captures a scene, a person, a place that no longer exists takes on a certain gravitas. Can the same be said of writing? Through detail, description, vibe, and voice, can the writer immortalize something? Is the image of the piece strong enough to create the same gravitas as a photograph?
Using an actual image of something long gone may trigger the kind of emotional detail that gives writing its power.
The photograph above will figure prominently in an upcoming story of mine. Whenever I come across it, the scene replays itself like a movie. Everything from lighting to smells comes back immediately. Through it I am transported, and now I just have to write it all down.
The most important aspect of writing is voice: that feel, sound, or signature thing that makes a piece identifiable as a particular writer’s work. Inevitably a writer just starting out will copy a mentor’s voice — subconsciously or not — to start understanding what makes it interesting. Then, through craft, experience, more reading, more experimenting with different mimicry, the writer begins to sculpt a signature vibe. Because it can only develop through careful, calculated practice, true voice may take years to articulate.
Read some of your own juvenilia; does it sound different? odd? bad? not like you? Most likely, that old writing was not crafted with your current voice. Note that your writing will change slightly, as does the way you speak: maturity, lifestyle, location, all will creep in. But this is honing of your voice. This application of life differs from the first stages of development. Early Hemingway (or King, Munro, Yeats, Garcia Marquez, Alexis, Doolittle, McCarthy…) has a different feel than later Hemingway, but the voice is there, loud, clear, identifiable.
Read. Read again. Read something different. Read something you dislike.
Write. Write some more. Write in a style you aren’t used to. Write in a style you detest.
Although the intangibility of voice can be frustrating, the importance of voice is paramount. When writing, ask yourself: what makes the story yours; outside of physical detail, could someone identify it as yours; what could you add, change, delete, to make it more yours? Eventually all these mechanics, these nuances will start to flow naturally, giving life to your own inner rhythms, rhymes, metres, in the form of voice.