Mon 18 November 2019
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You are here: Home > Young Writers' Hub > Blog > The Writer at Work: Part Two
The Writer at Work: Part Two
Jake Campbell on how and why he writes

Continued from The Writer at Work

In a way, I suppose, the two conditions (the writer as an actor in the monetary economy and the writer as an artist, a creator), are complementary. How so, I hear you asking ? surely the writer would love nothing more than a hearty donation from an amicable benefactor; buying him time to spend a year or more (in the Bahamas?) honing his magnum opus?

Well, perhaps. But I’d like to suggest that in that time, said writer would invariably spend more time drinking cocktails and sunning his pins than fine-tuning his 700 page novel. Regardless, such fantasies remain so and with good reason. See, there exists a number of misconceptions about the writer; about his ‘job’; about what he should be doing between eating his cornflakes and sipping his cocoa. Such delusions are held by a number of writers themselves and by even more of their readers, the general public (the non-writers).

For instance, I noted in the first part of this blog that at university, I enjoyed a state wherein I could write 90 lines of poetry in a fortnight. Standard interruptions aside, my only gripe was that a fortnight was scant time for the poems to emerge as anywhere near finished. So I got a 2:1 for a portfolio of poems. That’s probably a 65% for, hmm, a total of 12 hours work? Probably less. One can subtract at least an hour in time spent boiling the kettle. So, to the non-writer, I spent what would be, typically, to them, a shift and a half writing poems. Stereotypes dictate that the rest of that fortnight had to involve me in a hoody and jogger bottoms, laptop nearby, nursing the effects of a tax-payer fuelled three day binge.

Maybe the other thirteen and a half days were a write-off. That time has passed and this isn’t a tirade against anti-studentism. The point is this: writing, when all is said and done, must involve pen marking paper, or fingers tapping keys. So I watched re-runs of Friends and napped for the rest of the fortnight, it matters not one iota in terms of poetic gestation. Yes, there’s an argument to be made for reading other poets in that time, to build on my knowledge of form and technique so I might successfully employ them at a later date in my own work, but there’s also an argument to be made for ditching the copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and going for a jog. Bored of Byron? Have a walk along the river Dee. Tired of Tennyson? Mop the kitchen floor.

Now, of course, my time not spent writing ? and I’ll be the first to admit it far outweighs the time spent with a pen or keyboard ? involves working in the sense that most people regard working. You know: horrible terms like national insurance, time and a half, rota… But it’s (largely) good. Here’s why: poems do not emerge finished. Ever, ever, ever. They require judicious drafting and the patience of Penelope. There’s always something that nags at you in the first few drafts of a poem. Be it an awkward syntax you can’t quite work out, or an image that’s not quite pulling its weight, we poets dwell on these things, often far too much. The best way to allow a poem to right itself is to not think about it. If I’m thinking about stanza breaks while I’m at work, two things are going wrong: one, my job and two, the poem’s natural, subconscious development.

To be continued

Jake Campbell is a young writer based in South Shields.


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