A writer’s hunger

In one of their daily prompts, NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month: write one poem a day in April) asked us to write a “book spine” poem based on titles in our bookshelves.

One of the titles in my bookshelf is Knut Hamsun’s Hunger (1890). It describes the painful birth of a writer, an unnamed young man who wanders the streets of Kristiania (former name of Oslo), trying to keep his dignity and sanity. His hunger is both physical and mental, and at one point he almost eats his pencil. Occasionally, he earns a little money by selling an article to a newspaper, but he is unwilling to take other jobs (he deems it unfit for someone of his abilities). In the book, he relates his experiences from his walks and from his encounters with people. He ends up signing on a ship and leaving the city. I think any aspiring writer can relate to the constant drive inside that anonymous writer.

There are seven book titles hidden in the poem. Find them if you like. 🙂

 
HUNGER

I am an undernourished author,
hungry to create

I walk the city streets
in a ceaseless chase for words
and, in all honesty, recognition,
to become a king on writing

I can hear the bells toll ten, eleven, twelve times,
as if to put a number on my
failed, once great, expectations

Just after sunset,
I stumble through the door
at the inn where I lodge

Another long day’s journey into night
comes to an end

Hurt feet, hurt pride,

but not willing to settle for
the God of small things

Not yet.

(c) Zol H, 2016

 
WordPress Daily Prompt: Constant

Photo: Mag Pole/Unsplash

Writer’s dilemma: What’s the word I’m looking for?

Heroes and villains, bitches and their sons, coffee-drinking, donut-eating police detectives, stargazers, starfighters, lovers and leavers, lost cats, fairies, and pink princesses. If we want to read about them, someone has to write their stories. The task falls on the writers, we the creatures of words who spend our days kicking around phrases until they fall into their rightful places. Sometimes we succeed in scaring the living daylight out of our readers or make them smile or weep or long for romance. Sometimes there’s merely a shrug. But before all that, there’s the writer’s brutal life down to the word-level:

writing
Sounds familiar?

 
WordPress Daily Prompt: Creature

On the corner of Grafton and Duke

 
I squandered my time trying to define him, so I erased him from my story and left him standing on the corner of Grafton and Duke.

If you encounter him on the corner of Grafton and Duke, a puzzled, elusive character, not yet fully written into life, be kind to him.

No one is as real to me as people in the novel. It grows like a living thing. When I realize they do not exist except in my mind I have a feeling of sadness, looking around for them, as if the half-empty cafe were a place I had once come to with friends who had all moved away.
— Mavis Gallant

 
WordPress Daily Prompt: Puzzled

The scream

So, I stared at the empty screen without the slightest inkling of what to write about. The next thing I knew, I was screaming, first to the blank screen, then to my mirror image, then from the street corner and the rooftop, from the top of the Eiffel Tower and on to Kilimanjaro, higher and higher, and then back to the freaking screen. My letters of distress were all returned unanswered.

Eventually, I ran out of places to scream from. Then I started to write.

That was a good scream.

When words don’t come easy, I make do with silence and find something in nothing.
— Strider Marcus Jones, Poet

 
WordPress Daily Prompt: Inkling

The art of limitation

 
Her eyes were blue beyond blue, like the ocean. A blue he could swim into… Boy sees girl and the writer cannot decide how to best describe that blue beyond blue eye color. “Like nothing but blue,” says the editor. No need for marine life references.

This is a scene from Genius, a film about the relationship between Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) and writer Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). It’s the 1930’s. Wolfe walks into Perkins’s office with a 5,000 (!) page handwritten manuscript, out of which Of Time and the River was carved ― and eventually cut to 900 pages.

In this scene, we see the editor hard at work while the writer keeps adding more pages, arguing that every word is vital. The 200+ words long boy-sees-girl paragraph was cut to 25 words.

I’ve transcribed the dialog in another post: An editor’s life: Cut. Cut. Cut?

 
Short version:

Describing the scene where the boy Eugene sees the girl across the room, Wolfe starts with the girl’s arms: “…ivory arms, but now sun-kissed as a blush, as the incarnadine discovery inside a conch shell seen for the first time by a bewildered zoologist as he is undone by its rosy, promising pinkness; those were her arms.”

Then her eyes: “…her eyes were blue beyond blue, like the ocean. A blue he could swim into forever and never miss a fire engine red or a cornstalk yellow.”

Finally, the impact it all had on Eugene: “From that moment, Eugene understood what the poets had been writing about these many years, all the lost, wandering, lonely souls who were now his brothers. He knew a love that would never be his. So quickly did he fall for her that no one in the room even heard the sound, the whoosh as he fell, the clatter of his broken heart. It was a sure silence, but his life was shattered.”

The girl never notices him.

The result after cutting: “Eugene saw a woman. Her eyes were blue. So quickly did he fall for her that no one in the room even heard the sound.”

Who says editing is boring? And for the record, I love Thomas Wolfe’s writing.

 
WordPress Daily Prompts: Carve, Simplify

To write more, write more

 
Undulate. That’s today’s writing prompt from WordPress. English is not my mother tongue, and I had to look it up:

undulate

“To move with a smooth wave-like motion.” Got it. I’ll “undulate” my way through this post, which is about the usefulness daily prompts have proved to have for the reluctant writer I used to be.

“I sit, I stand up, I walk, I sit down, I get coffee and then some more. I’m not a patient writer. But then, once in a while, I get completely absorbed in the task before me and ideas and words flow freely. The sun sets and when it seemingly suddenly rises again, I’m still sitting there in front of my computer.” This is how I used to describe my writing habits. I really wanted to write on a regular basis, but there was a resistance inside me so strong that it seemed like a physical barrier.

Then I discovered the daily prompts from WordPress. “To write more, write more,” they reminded their bloggers in 2010 and encouraged us to write a post every day in 2011, presenting us with a daily writing prompt. “Yeah, right,” I said but jumped on the challenge, and the resistance faded away as the days and weeks went by. I began to think about the resistance as birth pangs, unborn stories struggling to find their way into the world. There’s only one thing to do and that’s to sit down and start writing.

Another writing initiative I enjoy is the annual NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month, which is actually a global event), modeled after NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and founded by poet Maureen Thorson in 2003. The challenge is to write a poem every day throughout April. Cinquain, ottava rima, tanka, and pantun have been among the daily prompts, not to forget the dreaded sonnet. I’m a narrator more than a poet and didn’t expect much to begin with, but I was surprised by how easily the words and word-pictures came to me. Come April, I might give it a try again.

In the meantime, I rely on the daily prompts from WordPress to keep my writing going. They are like daily push-ups to keep the writing muscle in shape.

 
WordPress Daily Prompts: Undulate

A clog in the funnel

 

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.
—Gustave Flaubert

Yeah, been there. Sometimes, the ideas inside the head just won’t come out precisely through the fingertips. It’s as if there’s a clog somewhere in the funnel.

Until the right combination of words come along, approximations will have to do sometimes, but I’m not particularly fond of them because they interrupt the flow. I’m not a draft writer and I edit while I go. I like to have a good sentence or paragraph before I move to the next. Often, the problem solves itself the morning after when I read through the text with fresh eyes. Thank goodness for the overnight funnel cleaning crew.

 
WordPress Daily Prompts: Funnel

The power of the word

Words matter immensely. My theory is that they have been traveling alongside us since the dawn of the human race, telling our history. They have inspired writers, been meticulously stated in ink: guilty or not guilty, been used in declarations of war and peace: hate you, love you. They can entertain, inform, and make power-hungry small minds tremble. Through our pens, they pass on the stories of the past, comment on the times in which we live, and leave a mark for tomorrow. If we fail to catch the words as they pass by, they quickly fade away and move on, from writer to writer, always traveling.

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”
— John Greenleaf Whittier, “Maud Muller”

 
WordPress Daily Prompts: Theory