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The Writer at Work: Part Three
The final of installment of Jake Campbell's take on writing

I quoted earlier from Flaubert: poetry as science, to paraphrase. Working for money, at least the job I do, means solving basic problems. I drive around, delivering orders, deciphering the riddle of how best to complete my run. The process is sequential and it is not dissimilar to how we write. The difference, and it’s a biggy, is that I can’t empathise with my work because it offers me nothing more, essentially, than pocket money. I hate maths and science and I’ve always been terrible at even basic puzzles like Sudoku. I sound like such an English student. True, I might dislike them because my cognitive facilities aren’t sharp with numbers, but in reality, I don’t take time to try and improve them, to try and understand equations, because at their core, these equations are dry. They’re more boring than a box of pencil sharpeners. They don’t have a human quality (at least not in a direct sense) and they don’t speak to me with suggestions for ways in which we might view the world differently. They give me answers, black and white ones that I often don’t understand.

However. (Full stop for effect. And again.) They offer an alternative, if similar, thought process, which, for reasons I can’t explain, somehow facilitate the involuntary progression of my poems. Deep within the recesses of my brain, as I negotiate four lane city centres and taxi drivers who don’t indicate, my poems feed on something and burp themselves into my mind as more wholly formed articles, ripe for siphoning onto the page.

On a good day, a few lines I texted into a draft SMS on my phone the night before (reaching for the light, the pen and the paper can be infuriating), can go from nonsensical scrawl to a fully-realised basis for a poem. My manuscript, my poem(s), is/are all about place. Specifically, the North East of England. It helps that I spend a lot of my day, to a point, physically being involved in this place; seeing things I would never imagine in my tower, talking to people I’d never meet in a library, hearing phrases for which there exist no translation or synonyms. It follows, then, that working for money, doing what might be described as something I am over-qualified for, can yield serendipitous rewards. Repetitive work between 9 and 5 may be banal most of the time, but there are moments of accidental genius* where I think, yes, this will work brilliantly in my manuscript; it will add credence, of sorts, to my poetry – a poetry I see as being steeped in place.

I recently read the really rather brilliant A Fraction of the Whole. In it, one of the protagonists, Jasper, realises that his father, a man who treads the fine line between genius and looney, has spent the better part of his life ‘thinking himself into a corner’. A diluted version of this occurs, certainly to me, when I spend too much time staring at the white and blue of my Word document, or scribbling my name over and over again onto the slice of tree while I swear under my breath, failing to correct a lacklustre metaphor. Writing needs fleshing out in the way a football match needs playing for ninety minutes. Get yellow cards, twist ankles, score own goals. Afterwards: watch the video of the performance, takes notes, resolve to improve. Don’t spend a season beating yourself up, though.

*This will be expanded upon in a later blog. Scout’s Honour.

Jake Campbell is a young writer based in South Shields. 



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