This blog post is in response to two recent questions, one posted in the comments section of this blog and one messaged to me on my facebook page. In reality, these are both variations of questions I’ve gotten since publishing my first book The Boy from Willow Bend. The answers continue to evolve as I continue to learn. What I decided to do, though, and I hope the questioners and others who may come after are prepared to do some reading, is to share some of what I’ve said in the past over various blog musings and interviews because collectively, it’s as complete an answer as I can give to questions that really aren’t as simple as they seem. Besides, why re-invent the wheel.
First, the questions,
- “Would love to hear more about your writing process…are you one of those fiction writers who uses strict outlines and knows the plot from the get go or do you discover the story as you write?”
- “I have started to give the whole publishing idea some serious thought. What I would like to know is where do I start? How do I start? How did you get started? Any guidance or advice would be greatly appreciated.
Second, the answers,
The Waiting Game or the Scraps of Things is a blog posting that touches on my discovery of how Musical Youth, a 2014 Burt award finalist and forthcoming book, came to be. In it can be found, I think, some insights to how I write/my process.
This one can be filed under dialogue notes; it’s titled, it begins with listening.
While we’re on the subject of dialogue, check out this one as well.
This one, It all comes back to Story, is very stream of consciousness and is about as close as you’ll get to watching my brain connect and tie threads together as part of the creative process.
This one, a report from a writing workshop, may provide some insights on how those connections are made during the writing process as well.
In this one I begin to talk about the tension between writing and publishing.
In this interview with Trini writer Danielle Boodoo Fortune, I de-construct, or attempt to, aspects of my writing or writing process.
In There is No Spoon, a presentation I did in Guadeloupe at the Caribbean Congress of Writers, I talk about the use of actual spaces in my fiction and, specifically, Oh Gad! and the short story Amelia at Devil’s Bridge featured in Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean. By so doing, I believe, I talk a bit about process; so I’ll just rest that one here as well.
Included in these ‘5 Questions’ is advice to writers, such as it is.
Always a Work in Progress is a bit about a story’s journey and a bit about mine as a writer.
But I hate Rules – self-explanatory.
In this interview with the British Council ahead of participating in the Aye Write! Festival in Scotland, I talk about writing, inspiration to writing dialogue.
Author N’Tyse touched on both my writing and publishing journey in this interview.
This Susumba interview covers some of the same territory.
This Frugal Feminista interview talks a bit about Oh Gad! and a lot more about the realities of publishing.
This interview with Bajan writer Sandra Sealy explores publishing and writing as well.
This interview with online magazine Your Style one of the first interviews I did after Oh Gad! came out. My Style It too speaks about the journey.
Some years ago, some students interviewed me about my writing. Don’t think they went easy on me. As with other interviews, they challenged me to think about what I do, why I do it, and how I’m able to do it. Which is interesting because I’d rather be writing than talking about writing.
All of the above notwithstanding, I really believe you’ve got to do what works for you. No two journeys are the same. And I’ve never been one for routine, myself, so at every stage of the journey, I’m re-learning and experimenting and discovering, and that’s just how I like it.
Hope this helps.
Post Note: I also encourage any one specifically interested in writing practice to search ‘workshop’ over at Wadadli Pen and put those into practice, or find some other something like Leone Ross’ 10 Day Challenge t0 help you not only get inspired but practice, good writing takes practice. If you’re ready to publish and are looking for ‘opportunities’ search for that on the Wadadli Pen blog as well – I keep adding workshops, markets, publishers, and other opportunities of interest to writers.
I’ve been writing everyday since completing the 10 day Challenge. The greatest effect of that, so far, I think apart from the new writing itself is how much I’m looking forward to writing time; writing is fun again. And usually the new writing is connected to works in progress. Today I decided to seek out a poetry prompt. This one, from Poets and Writers, in the spirit of the Dadaists instructed me to cut words from an article and then pick those words at random from a bag. What emerges is supposed to reflect you. What I found is that as random as it is, your brain (or maybe that’s just my brain) gives meaning to the order. My article was about animal rescue so there were references to dogs and puppies but in the poem, given my concerns about our modern Caribbean and the politics of development, concerns touched on in Oh Gad! – my novel – my puppies and dog were of the less cuddly variety. I’m copying it below with no editing (except tossing out the word some for sum which is cheating but…). It might look like gibberish to you but to me it makes perfect sense. Writers you should try it; if nothing else it makes for a good and relaxing craft project.
Park. Apartment. Occurrence.
However, dog is for
Question the puppies
Opportunity. Advertise. Sum.
My favourite line, by the way, is “question the puppies”.
I have done a lot of school visits over the years, even before I was a published writer; it’s just something that always seemed to intersect with my professional life and community interests. Recently, for throw back Thursday, on my personal facebook page, I shared to unexpectedly positive and encouraging response the photo above from a workshop I did at a local primary school. I have good memories of that experience. The children were enthusiastic (but focused) and the teacher, well, she’s the one who’d done the prep work and the inviting so she was a partner, really, which makes a world of difference between a successful school visit and one that flops. To date, all visits have been voluntary but I frankly can’t afford to do them like I’d like to, but, even where there’s interest, for the most part local schools aren’t budgeted to pay. Other avenues with respect to either public or private funding haven’t opened up, so far, though I could probably paper my whole house with the numerous proposals I’ve prepped and submitted over the years.
What I’m attempting right now is to offer schools workshops under the Jhohadli Writing Project, pitching to the relevant public sector agencies and to the schools directly for those who have active PTAs or means to pay for such programmes, in addition to trying to tap independent funding either through the private sector or grant agencies. With the proposed extended school day, initiatives like this could provide an alternative – one that breaks the usual routine while providing practice and instruction, deepening appreciating for the literary arts, opening up creative thinking, and building literacy skills.
“After being reluctant to come, I actually learned a lot. My writing skills have improved. [Also] learn[ed] about myself,” said a participant in the Youth Media Training Workshop I was commissioned by the Department of Youth Affairs to do over the summer. That kind of transformation is doable but it won’t be achieved with a one-off visit, not when there’s the potential to build sustained programmes and maybe even initiate writing and reading clubs in the various schools.
The Jhohadli Writing Project is an extension (a possible extension since it hasn’t really taken off yet) of my 2013 Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project which tested the waters and yielded feedback like this, “I can honestly say that my writing has improved from this experience and because of it I’m sure I will get better. Highlight of my summer.”
I’ll be candid and say that as a writer living in Antigua, it can be challenging to find financial avenues to keep doing what I do – hence my tongue in cheek reference to being on the hustle. No pretense. Money isn’t my motivation, but it is a necessity. So, yes, this is in part an attempt to monetize my skills. But it’s also about embracing the idea that I, too, am a teacher, albeit one who has had more meaningful impact in the more informal workshop setting than in the formal classroom setting. I find it extremely fulfilling to share what I love and to help others discover what they can do. I’d do it for free if I could, and will continue to give voluntary service to my community in all the ways I can. But, let’s be real, there is a cost to all this, and there is a value to it, and my goal is to tap into resources that appreciate that.
For more on the Jhohadli Writing Project, go here.
If you want to talk about funding such a programme or commissioning my services, contact me.
The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books this year (2014) spotlighted my book Oh Gad! – two years after its initial release, but just in time for its mass market release – with no less than four reviews, more than any other individual book in the collection. Grateful and humbled for the attention my-not-so-little-book-that-could has been getting between the NPR buzz and this.
The Review has been known to pen responses from writers and the editor made clear that door was open to me. I don’t believe in it, though; the back and forth with reviewers. Even when I disagree (with the inference, for instance that certain choices were reader-driven as opposed to character-motivated) or see a blatant error (facts not open to interpretation like location or biography), I usually don’t feel tempted – usually feel enough of a distance from the work by the time it’s published to take it in stride.
I want positive reviews (though only if they’re deserved), of course. What writer doesn’t? But, when it comes down to it, it’s each reader and reviewer’s reading of the story and it’s actually interesting to me to see what people come away with – rarely the exact same thing even when they pick up on common themes. I share excerpts of (favourable) reviews here on the site in the interest of creating awareness about the book, and hopefully attracting sales (yet have been known to link, in the interest of full disclosure, even to the unfavourable and/or mixed reviews). I’ve added excerpts from the Review reviews, and you can read them here. Beyond that, nothing to say really except thank you to all the reviewers for taking the time, your reviews made for highly interesting reading – and the reality of being a writer, of being read in this way, of having my work revealed to me in this way, will never stop being unbelievable (believe that).
Want more Review? Go here.
Want more reviews? Go here.
That’s a ridiculous thing to say, of course, as sunset doesn’t have a single colour. But I was wearing a small bit of the colour of sunset, my favourite time of day, to enliven an already bright moment. The moment in question was a photo op (shaking on it) with Carol Mitchell, founder and publisher with eastern Caribbean registered independent press, Caribbean Reads.
They’ll be publishing my next book, Musical Youth, the manuscript that placed second for the inaugural Burt Award earlier this year. I’m looking forward to this moment, not just because of what it could mean for me and my book but, if it does well, potentially other eastern Caribbean writers, who could benefit from one more doorway to publishing even closer to home. On a personal level, I’m excited to see these characters ushered into the world; I really did enjoy writing them.
I’m enjoying a few other things about this image…like the whole wall of Antiguan and Barbudan books behind us. We’ve come a long way, baby, and kudos to the Best of Books where we took this image for creating a shelf specific to books by Antiguan and Barbudan writers (it’s a way of celebrating among ourselves the local literary arts while marking us, for visitors, as a cultural keepsake …though as I’m writing this, I’m hoping we’re also shelved according to genre). The Antiguan and Barbudan literary canon continues to grow. Look good, you can see my own Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad! and The Boy from Willow Bend right there on the top shelf, and we didn’t even plan it like that.
You know what I’m digging though, those earrings, because they remind me of both the generousity and creativity of my people. When I was set to head off to the Aye Write! Festival in Glasgow earlier this year, I made what I imagined was a throw away comment on my facebook page about wanting some Antiguan earrings to wear to the event. Right away, Akua Ma’at (Aisha) contacted me and offered to make me a pair of earrings. She went on to make me two pairs and when I lost one half of a pair offered to make me a new set. All the while refusing to take any money for any of this. Wha cyan go so? People they’ll disappoint you, but they’ll also surprise you, in pleasant ways; and the happy memory of that bit of creativity and generousity is the story behind those earrings made with the madras that forms part of our national dress.
Maybe this post should be re-titled, every picture tells a story.