Sometimes we need to ‘pretend’

The word ‘pretend’ has a bad press. We worry about doctors who aren’t doctors, builders who can’t build, teachers who aren’t qualified to teach. But the word ‘pretend’ comes from the Latin “praetendo” meaning to stretch forth, reach out, extend. Pretending allows us to believe we can do something new and different.

Pretending allows us to stretch ourselves beyond our reality into our imagination. If we didn’t pretend, would we dare to go after our dreams?

The forgotten art of love letters

Have we lost the art of writing letters? On Saturday 25th September 2017 The Daily Telegraph published some letters that Sylvia Plath wrote to her husband, Ted Hughes.

The power of her writing crosses the years. The intimate words take us under her skin.

Is this the forgotten art of writing love letters?

In a letter written on Monday 1 October 1956 she talks about her sadness of leaving her husband in Yorkshire and returning to Cambridge University:

I am back. The gas fire wheezes and dehydrates my right side, the rain blowing in the open window hydrates the left; I am codeine-numb, dazed, and utterly blissfully insensible. The trip back was hell; I found by picking up my suitcase and letting a noble agonised expression pass immediately over my face, I needed no porter until Cambridge. I stared at the wet landscape en route; it was flat and grey-green. That was that. If there were buildings, they were ugly.

I am very numb and very insensible though I have been unpacking, making huge piles for laundry, cleaners, rubbish, throwing away stacks of letters and scrap, during which I lacerated my thumb on a broken wine bottle; the cream crackers are soggy; the Nescafe is a hard cake; the strawberry jam is rancid. I drank the last of the vinegary Chilean burgundy and I love you. I will live in you and with every thought for you, however, I must smile and be politic with my supervisor and the odd girls here, none of whom, thank heaven, are back yet. But I am all for you, and you are that world in which I walk. I am still eating your dear lovely sandwiches; I felt too lousy on the train to eat, except for the bananas like you said; so I am having hot milk and loving you over those sandwiches now.

And then two days later:

Wednesday 3 October 1956

It is early yet, a clear miraculous guileless blue day with heather-coloured asters, shining chestnuts breaking from green pods (I wait till after dark to collect these) and rooks clacking like bright scraped metal; I find myself walking straight, talking incessantly to you and myself, and painfully abrased by the crowds of people – the motion, chatter and nip and tuck of cars and throngs in Petty Cury nearly drove me home screaming yesterday; I been, for four months, conscious really of only living in and with you, with a great sense of complete contained safe aloneness and protection that grew to mean in my deepest bone and marrow.

I am writing this in my bathroom after a lousy little breakfast of queer tasting honey on white (ugh) toast and Nescafe – regular breakfasts don’t start here till tomorrow; the way I miss you makes that hissing small anaemic word look ridiculous. I have very simply never felt this way before, and what I and we must do is fight and live with these floods of strange feeling; my whole life, being, breathing, thinking, sleeping, and eating, has somehow in the course of these last months, become indissolubly welded to you; it is difficult to describe – sort of as if I had innumerable tender, sensitive tentacles joined to you, and suddenly, except for those in my mind, all were cut off, left wavering loose; now people affect me like vinegar does our lovely poached eggs; I contract, concentrate, withdraw, and not a tentacle is left out; I marvel at how well I can get along without giving anything of myself to anyone.

Click here to be taken to the original article in the Daily Telegraph

What question am I trying to answer?

In today’s Guardian, the scientist Siddhartha Mukherjee writes about his love of writing and tells us the question he asks before he starts to write.

  • My single rule for writing about science is that you cannot know the answer if you don’t know the question.
  • Before I write anything, I ask myself ‘What is the question that I want to answer?
  • When I read a novel or encounter a poem or painting, I ask myself ‘What question is the painting or novel trying to answer?’

To read the full article:

The Most Dangerous Writing App


Last week I discovered The Most Dangerous Writing App.

This writing app is such a simple idea. Type intensively for five minutes or the words disappear. Five minutes is the default. You can change that time for 3, 5, 10, 20, 30 or 60 minutes.

This is a challenge. You can’t overthink. If you stop for longer than five seconds, the words are wiped from the screen.  It’s the fear that keeps you writing. (Sometimes I play around with that fear and deliberately stop, letting the app delete everything. It is good to know what it feels like to lose everything.  And it doesn’t feel that bad, honestly.)

What have I learnt over the past seven days?

  • Five minutes feels like the right period of time. It is long enough to not lose focus.
  • I type 250 words in five minutes.
  • Look down at the keyboard and not at the screen.
  • Don’t worry about spelling mistakes. I’ll deal with that later.
  • Repeating the exercise two or three times on the same subject adds depth.

Altogether a fun way to stimulate your writing.  And it is free. What more could one ask for?

Childhood Stories

Childhood stories are about friendships, laughter, bravado, tears and pain. Ask yourself a few questions to spark those memories.

As a child:
your favourite toy was …
your favourite book was …
your favourite sport was …
your best friend was …
your favourite sweets were …

Stepping back in time

Your memories contain the sights, sounds, feelings, tastes and smells of your original experience. To step back in time, focus on just one sense.

Which sense to begin with? Ask yourself ‘What do I remember first?’ Is it an image, sound, smell or texture? Describe this first moment in detail to begin your journey into the past.

What do you believe?

What do you believe? What interests you? What questions do you have? Are you looking for answers?

Commit to your beliefs. Let the truth come out through your writing. Start with the simplest beliefs and then spread out, allowing them to become complicated. What are the consequences of your beliefs? What is the good and the bad in them?

When writing your story, use this knowledge to influence your writing, but don’t make the mistake of telling us what you believe. Let us work it out for ourselves.