Tue 12 November 2019
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The Writer at Work: Part One
Jake Campbell on how and why he writes

That’s meant to be a double entendre. But only in a practical sense. I’ve been thinking about the writer as necessarily being of two conflicting entities: on one hand, he is the artist in his tower, creating, he hopes, work which will outlive him. Contrarily, the writer has to earn his crust. As someone recently starting to notice these opposing states, I felt the need to articulate how it affects me. This is the first part of my thoughts on the writer at work.

Writing, as I came to learn through four years of practical, anecdotal advice bequeathed to me by the pros (read: my tutors), is something, quite literally, we have to work at. Or, as common dictum goes: there is no such thing as writing, only re-writing.

At university, the above sentiment didn’t quite hold true. Yes, I edited, drafted and attended advisory tutorials for the sake of my work, but if writing was a process ? one which involved leaving short stories in sock drawers for half a year ? then I was going to have to put that process into fast forward. After all, like many (most?) I routinely allowed myself only a fortnight, often less, to flesh out ninety lines of poetry. If we estimate that to be five poems of ‘average’ length, that means I had ten days (four days lost to hangovers; train delays; laundry and living a pencil’s throw from the best bar in town) to come up with those five poetic sparks and build the poetic tinder and subsequent bonfire around them. No wonder some of them were as effective as trying to light a dark room with the standby light on the telly.

In short, life gets in the way. Now, having (very nearly) graduated, my writing requires double helpings of the type of discipline I only half practiced at uni. I am lucky enough to have a part-time job for my father’s business, but I often get home full of enthusiasm to add the latest brilliant line or image to my manuscript, only to switch on the computer and stare at the screen like it was a re-run of Scunthorpe holding Wigan to a nil-nil draw in a drenched mid-winter pitch fifteen years ago. I’m just not arsed.

Part of the reason for this apathy can be put down to physically being tired, but I’d like to suggest that there are deeper, underlying mechanisms. My job involves delivering car parts. The mental processes to do it, while not complex, essentially involve my brain working out a pattern and the quickest way to solve that pattern. Subconsciously, as I drive around, my brain is working out the route that will see me from A to B to C most effectively. Basic maths, in essence.

Now, when I do sit down and write, I have to switch my brain into a slightly different operating system. Yes, writing poetry, as Flaubert noted, is as exact as science as geometry, but when working on a manuscript, one has to think of the whole. The difference, then? I write poems because I feel an impulse to convey ideas, to put a new angle on things. I drive a van because the economy’s fucked and my Dad needs staff. The similarities? Well, driving a delivery route is as methodical a process as refining a manuscript. If I miss out a delivery, the whole run ends up late. Similarly, if I don’t seamlessly connect one sequence of poems to the next, the whole work ends up looking a bit chaotic.

To be continued

Jake Campbell is a young writer based in South Shields.

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