Writing from the heart

I guess the old adage of write what you know really rings true when writing about your fine self. Although of course, there are the exceptional cases when you end up writing about what you know but to suit what other people want to hear, or more precisely, how they want to hear it.
Whenever I wrote as a youngster I always felt under a lot of pressure to write in a style that suited other people, but I felt that this not only made it difficult to put my ideas into words, but even to come up with the ideas in the first place.
When I first started working on my latest book, a memoir coving a 6 month cycling trip around Europe on a recumbent trike, I toyed with several styles. Initially, I wanted to write an amusing ditty entitled “Encounters of a third wheel” which would be a series of very short stories and anecdotes about things that happened to me on my way round. As much as I loved the idea of a piece into which readers could dip, I found that the disconnection of all the elements actually detracted from the overall value of the work and what I had gone through.
I then set about looking at a “dear diary” approach (ironically, my original opening paragraph for my final draft parodied this) but once again I found that compartmentalizing my experiences ended up in a jerky incoherent piece.
I wanted something that flowed like a torrent. When I tell people about my trip, it tends to gush out in waves and I wanted this to be the feeling of my writing too. And to that end I found that a continuous internal dialogue really hit the spot. I may as well have used a Dictaphone, as my primary goal was to be able to read it as if I was having a conversation with someone.
To this end, I put all my notes and a diaries that I had kept at the time, to the side and started with an entirely blank canvas (I did not even refer to an atlas) and recalled every detail from memory (of course I cross checked some of the spelling of places names etc). This had the effect of giving me a very brutal and realistic recollection of all the sights, sounds, feelings and emotions of each section of my trip.
In fact, I was so keen to keep the prose continuous that I very seriously considered having only 1 chapter in my book – the trip. Of course I swiftly realised that this would be untenable and opted for the next best option of using countries to define the chapters. This also led to the quirky nature of having chapter numbers subdivided as I revisited various countries during my trip (for instance there is a 15a, 15b and 15c as I returned to one country no less than 3 times during my voyage). To be honest, I wasn’t too bothered if this was logical or not – my whole trip defied logic, and this, I felt, added to the slight absurdity of it.
There is of course the language – another bone of contention that often stymies creativity. When I talk, I make up words to describe exactly what I want to say as unusually or directly as necessary. I felt that because this book was an extension of myself and my travels, to use idiosyncratic language was the only plausible course of action. If I refrained from it, then it was not me talking. Too often are books critiqued for failing to embrace the language of the subject - college girls who talk like uptight baronesses or well spoken professors who slip into colloquialisms inadvertently. Of course I am not perfect… If I was you would all know of me by now! But it is something that I felt strongly about and resisted much ‘editorial/proof readership’ pressure to reign in my language. I swear and make up words in real life, so why not in my book about me?
On the flipside of this is the use of specific cultural references, to which I have been made acutely aware recently when I was working on my opening paragraphs (with the help of various forums online). It simply did not occur to me that American and British had such different words for day to day items, or that not everyone watched the exact programs I watched as a kid.
I know that I should go through my work and remove such references (or figures of speech and thought) but I feel that it is part of me, and if people think I am a smeg-head for leaving them in… well, it happens! However, knowing this now, I would endeavour in my next book to keep the humour neutral or universal.
I think that humour is always the hardest aspect in a book – serious books with sudden flashes of humour/jokes/quips just end up leaving a weird feeling… Although I consider my work ‘serious’, I never tried to write it in a serious fashion, and in fact aim to ridicule myself and anyone/thing around me at every opportunity. For me laughter is a gift and if I can give it… the more the merrier.
Guest post by Alex Chklar 


  1. I guess nothing flows better than a poetry from a heart..........


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