I’ve pretty much finished gathering information, and although I still have some reading to do (I just ordered this fab looking book), and I already started writing long ago, this weeks feels like I’m moving into the ‘second half’ of the project, the half where I use all the stuff I found and learned to create my portfolio. There is So Much Stuff. In the picture above, taken from Richmond Bridge, there is boat hire, a boat repair shed, an ice-cream van (selling hot dogs) a bike hire shed, an island (uninhabited), some pleasure boats, some residential boats, a rail bridge, a flood-prone boulevard, a child in a buggy, a child on someone’s shoulders, a grassy slope with pairs of people lying on blankets (affectionate? or arguing?), an older couple (who may have just been reunited after thirty-five years apart). Any or all of these things might make it into stories as details that bring alive the location, or characters that end up being either fleeting or central to the plot.
I have half a notebook of details and impressions like this. I mentioned in an earlier post that when I started I found I was trying to be selective, judging whether something was a good thing to include. I quickly realised that I had absolutely no idea what might end up in a story. The yellow football I found on the foreshore is in – it ended up being a detail that contributed to character when my protagonist made a decision to leave it where it was (as I did). The allotments that I walked past, that I was sure would be the setting for a story, were all but forgotten until I looked back through the photos.
One thing I’ve noticed, with all this information, and – in spite of my efforts not to judge – certain things in my head that will be ‘good in a story’, I am very inclined to be led along by the interesting details, rather than following the story. The thought goes something like this: that dance studio under the bridge arches seemed so significant, it would be so cool to use that, I bet I can work it into a story. But once I’m doing that, I lose sight of the story itself. What if I never use the dance studio, even to have someone walk past it and be surprised that the pet shop that was there for twenty years is gone? I feel like it’s a thing of value that has been lost or wasted.
I’ve met this concept before, when it comes to having ideas. I have loads of ideas and I used to be very protective of them: I must write this down, I must not forget this, this could be The Idea. But gradually my process changed. It’s common writing advice that one should carry a notebook and write down every single thing that comes to you, but I’ve heard a couple of writers interviewed who say that they let it go a bit and see which ideas cling. I’m doing more of the second now, and less of the first, and it’s partly because I believe that there is an abundance of ideas out there, and it doesn’t matter if I lose a few along the way – even possibly brilliant ones. In the same way, I don’t feel like I have to use every single cool thing I saw on the river. Some of them can just stay there by the towpath, maybe another poet will pick them up.
So although I titled this post ‘Selecting’ actually the way I’m trying to work is not to select. I’m trying to start with the story and follow it. This might mean starting with a small detail – one story I’ve written is built entirely around a pebble that I picked up in Putney – but trying to force other real details in there is not the way to follow. In a sense, I am now ready to ‘write what I know’ – to quote another piece of tired writing advice. I didn’t know much at all two months ago, but now I have absorbed the Thames, and I’m ready to spit it out.