Retreat!

 There are several reasons I haven’t posted for weeks, the main one being our hard disc has been playing up something rotten for a month. At one stage we didn’t have Word so I had to write files as emails, send them to myself then print them off. Last week I had to work on the laptop then copy files over in order to print them out. But last week was special. It was my retreat.

The original idea had been to hide away in a friend’s caravan for five days starting with the monday of the Mayday bank holiday. But after a week at Arvon where I spent the only hour I had to myself missing my family, I decided to do the retreat at home. But how would it work? Well, after a serious spring clean of 3/4 the flat, there was more space in our bedroom. I moved the table from the kitchen, set up the laptop and there I had it. My very own office where I could shut the door. My partner had already booked the time off work so I had from 8.30 to 5.30 to get on rewriting some Chaucer. And rewrite I did! Four drafts in four days. Three of them entire drafts which means I got to the end of the narrative. They’re raw but I had fun writing them and feel confident they’re going to work.

Last week I decided to work differently. I’d work like a novelist. I’d work as if I was writing the first draft of a whole book rather than write a first draft and then edit edit edit. What it meant was this: I was in first draft heaven all week. I was freestyling on the page. Spending an hour a day listening to rap on Spotify had something to do with it.  I’d feared it would be difficult to hop in and out of different poems, different voices, but it was actually easier to start afresh each day. I was flying, and with each new poem I felt more and more confident about being able to do a decent remix of all the tales. I had a great chat with Roger Robinson at the T S Eliot prizegiving party in January where he said he always writes the whole poetry book first and then starts editing. This was so radically different from how I work I thought I’d give it a try last week. Now, I’m keen to keep in first draft mode. I’m being quite hardcore i.e. being unable to print each poem until the end of the day meant by the time I’d transfered the file and printed it off I was exhausted and didn’t even read the draft.  When I get to the editing stage, the poems will seem a little unfamiliar which is a very good thing. My usual practice, editing day by day, works if I’m on a roll but can be painfully slow. It will be more satisfying editing knowing I have a version of the book written.

Another plus for writing early drafts one after the other is it’s exercising the same part of the brain, the bit that gets ideas. So the work flows. My other method meant I’d get to the umpteenth edit, be exercised in editing mode, then it would be a supreme effort to get back to ideas mode. This is the first time I’ve written a book with so much narrative and such a clear design. It makes sense to radically alter my approach.

So now I have a range of pieces, some polished, some at early draft stage and two beginnings: Knight’s, Miller’s, Reeve’s, Cook’s, Clerk’s, Prioress’s, Melibee, Nun’s Priest’s, Canon’s Yeoman’s, Manciple’s and Parson’s. So those four days locked in my bedroom were really really useful…

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