from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Writing the Bright Moment (the book)

There. It's happened. Writing the Bright Moment – inspiration & guidance for writers has been reprinted at last – the printers near Exeter have done a beautiful job on recycled paper, and the cover image, a photo taken by my daughter many years ago, glows deeply. Because of the size restrictions of recycled paper, it's slightly smaller than the original, which was, I think, 'Royal' – but it's still pretty regal. I wrote it 10 years ago and I'm still very happy with it. It's had a number of great reviews, too.

If you are a writer, or know a writer, I hope I can tempt you to buy this. It won't entirely help you to procrastinate and avoid your own writing, which is partly what I'm doing right now, as it's full of juicy exercises for which you'll long to reach for a pen or cursor (I hope).

Here's the intro. Tomorrow I'll post the 'Contents' list; and you can buy it once more from the Paypal button, below right. You won't regret it (I can be boastful partly because there are a number of chapters contributed by other writer-teachers whose work I respect and like). 

My friend J says when she moved on to a narrowboat, she passed on all her writing books, even Natalie Goldberg's (reverent bow), except this one. As they say on facebook, *blushes*.

PLUS: it's slightly cheaper than a copy I've just seen on Amazon for £4,701.74. YES, that's right. (I imagine that might change now since the new ones are listed again.)


Introduction – Living the Writing Life

For a long time I thought – I hoped, perhaps, as it would make my job as a facilitator easier, and also my course descriptions – that you could differentiate writing from living; or creative writing from reflective writing; and of course, in one way, you can. A novel, a play, a poem speaks its own language, out there in the world, self-sufficient, finding its own way. And at the same time, the distinction is false. The more I work with people, and the more I explore my own creative processes, and my life, the more I recognise that fundamentally the separation is illusory.

   For me, writing is a way of meeting the world; of becoming and staying more conscious, more open, more imaginative; and then expressing that experience in whatever form is appropriate to the context. That expression will then feed back into the way I meet the world; a kind of Möbius strip.

   Clearly, writing is, or often is, an expression of creativity, a thing-in-itself. But I believe it’s more than this. It is also a form of intimacy: becoming intimate with the world, with others or another, and with oneself. It is also, therefore, a way of connecting or reconnecting, which means that it is as much a path of practice, a psychospiritual journey, as it is an art form.

   No matter what result you’re looking for – and I hope that this book will help you to stronger more exciting results – to my mind the writing process matters as much as the ‘product’. The act of putting words on paper is one of the most potent acts available to humans. We take language for granted, and we can forget that words can change lives. Writing at its best can be a way of making your world larger; and that of your reader, too.

This book takes a holistic approach to the writing process. We all write, in the course of our daily life; and we all improvise with words every time we open our mouths to speak. Creativity is part of life, an aspect of being human, not just the province of those few artistic geniuses who live permanently at full creative tilt. And creative self-expression has an important contribution to make to full health and wellbeing. In addition, how you live shapes how you write. And as a writer, how I write also shapes how I live.

   Nonetheless, creative writing is a discipline with its own requirements, its own parameters and its own tools and skills, and this book, I hope, will encourage you to explore these things further. The exploration never stops: my own experience is that one is perpetually apprenticed to the practice of writing.

   Much of our writing is a response to the world, to the experience of being alive. Humans live on many thresholds at once. It’s the job of the writer to be conscious of this and to find ways of articulating it. What ends up on the page is partly a response to the world we perceive through our senses, the feelings, thinking, intuition, life experiences – our own and others’ – and the memories we bring. It is leavened and made into something other by the imagination’s ability to read even more into everything, by our ability to put ourselves into the shoes of another, to question and to respond, to ask ‘what if?’, to transmute the raw ingredients into something new. The work comes in the shaping of all those things so that the result is as near to what we want to say, in language that sings, as possible.

   No matter how innovative our work, we are also writing from within, or extending, a tradition, even when we are challenging it. That tradition uses the power of imagery as its foundation, and leads back through the written canon to the oral culture to the pictograms, stories, myths and archetypes of our prehistoric ancestors, elders, bards and shamans amongst them. We are drawing not only from our own conscious and unconscious wells, we are also drawing from the limitless well of what Jung named the collective unconscious.

   What this means is that the images we use and the language we employ are all freighted with decades, centuries and even millennia of meaning. As writers, we can excavate that meaning and bring it into daylight. We can also lay our own nuances over the top of it; a word, especially a noun or verb, is a kind of palimpsest. By changing the context of that word, assigning new tasks and neighbours to it, we can allow our reader to see new faces in everyday language. This is particularly true, perhaps, of poetry. ‘An individual word’, says writer and academic Peter Abbs, ‘will carry ancient poetic sediment, and one of the poet’s tasks – as language is the poet’s medium – is to shake the hidden pollen and seeds that lie there, to allow for a new and quite unexpected fertilisation… Not to work the deep geology of language is to fail the medium.’1

This book is for anyone who is interested in any form of creative and reflective writing for any reason – to make something new with words, to communicate something important, as self-expression, self-exploration, as a personal record or journal – or simply because you have to, because nothing else fills that space, because that’s what you do.

   Nonetheless, I am addressing the poet in every writer, and an exploration of poetry forms much of the substance of this book. Poetry, in a way, is a process of distilling, heightening and refining experience, and therefore is a core practice.

   Robert Frost described poetry as ‘a way of remembering what it would impoverish us to forget’; and its place in history has been about just that: it is the oldest form of verbal art, once indistinguishable from storytelling, and universally crucial in the preservation of important cultural wisdom.

   ‘I believe we need good poems,’ says Andrea Hollander Budy, writing in Resurgence 207, ‘because they are both entertaining and useful: entertaining in that they are rooted in the human traditions of telling stories and making music; useful in that they disturb our lives enough to reinforce our humanness. I don’t believe there’s another literature that does it quite like that.

   ‘Poems speak the heart’s language, an aesthetic language that is both spiritual and musical. It is a language that forms questions much better than it poses answers. It cradles the tongue and the heart but exists in the ear... poems provide one of life’s few defences against inevitable grief and intolerable, unfathomable disaster. Yet poetry is equally the language of celebration, of unexpected joy, and of human love...’

   In short, poetry addresses every aspect of being human; and there can be few people who haven’t turned to it as reader or writer, however briefly, at moments of extreme feeling in their lives. For many reasons, and in many ways, poetry goes where other things can’t. Its terrain is unique. It is also crucial, in my view, to the life of the soul, as a revivifying medium, a force for reconnection; perhaps especially in a secular dislocated culture. Peter Abbs says that in the present state of cultural dissipation ‘an inner connection to a larger symbolic world is essential for the imaginative life’. We suffer collectively from a failure of imagination. Without the imaginative life we become, as individuals and as a people, desiccated; and, worse, incapable of empathy. Adrienne Rich says that poetry is a means of saving your life. Poet William Carlos Williams said:

It is difficult

           to get the news from poems

                     yet men die miserably every day

                               for lack

           of what is found there.

My poet friend Brian puts it like this: ‘Liverpool manager Bill Shankley said that football isn’t just a matter of life and death; it’s more important than that. Speaking as a footballer myself, I say that poetry’s even more important than football...’

   Whether or not poetry is your own medium, as a creative writer you will live with a poetic consciousness. This implies a simultaneous immersion in the life of the imagination and the life of the senses. There’s something shamanic about poetry and about poets. A poet flies across the thresholds of many worlds, goes to where the veil is thin, but lives fully in this: he or she also looks deeply, listens deeply, feels, touches and tastes the world in all its moods.       
   The poet conveys through a deep-rootedness in the sensory dimension, the concrete world and the physicality of experience, the existential, the spiritual, and the intangible. The profound is more effective if carried in the simple. If this is done skilfully enough, the poem will carry within it and convey to its audience its own true terrain of subtle non-physical meaning.

   Writing undertaken in this spirit is both a tool to achieve this, and the process itself. How to enhance this practice and ability is the focus of this book.

So writing is both an end in itself and a means to an end, both journey and destination. As I said at the beginning, it may also be a spiritual practice. In some traditions – the bardic, that of Japanese or Chinese sages, the Sufi, the Christian contemplative, the troubadour – poetry has been a crucial aspect of a spiritual path – a container for processing, refining and shedding light on the experience of being human, and of communicating that – both back to oneself and to others. It has its own psychology, spirituality, philosophy, history, cosmography and ecology.

But this source book is ‘hands-on’. I don’t want it to be merely theorising, although there will be times when I use discourse to explore the nature of writing. Nonetheless the emphasis is to help facilitate in you, the reader, the shaping of your creative voice. It is intended to inspire, to guide, and to remind you that though writing is a solitary path you are not alone in your practice.

   This means there are many suggestions and exercises to that end. This is a practical manual – a manual of practice.

   What I aim to explore in this book are three interlinked things.

   The first is those moments of inspiration that lead us to create words on a page (or in the ear), a largely subjective and usually solitary pursuit or phenomenon. How can we find, enhance, and commit to that process?

   The second is the shaping of those creations so that they do their job well. What does this require?

   The third is a holistic perspective, and underpins, overlays and surrounds everything contained in this book – living the writing life: a wonderful, terrible, gruelling, rich and all-embracing journey.

   All three perspectives are ones that I have spent the better part of my life exploring; and this source book is a way to collect, collate and reflect on the work I have done with groups of writers over fourteen years now, in the hopes that the final distilled result will create something inspiring.

   Most of the material in here has been tried out and refined on the people with whom I have worked. That way, I know that it does its job.

It’s also a record, in some ways, of my practice. And it will be a celebration of not only the writing process, but of the writing companions, friends, colleagues and students, who have travelled alongside me throughout my own solitary writer’s journey; in many ways it is our work, not my work.

The book contains a series of short essays. Many are pieces I have commissioned from creative writing practitioners who take their work out into the world by inspiring and supporting others as they themselves explore their own creativity. The contributors who have generously given their time to this project are people whose work – personal creative work as well as professional facilitation – I respect and admire, and whose approach chimes with my own. (Their contributions are named in the Contents list and at the heads of their essays; the unattributed pieces are, of course, mine.)

   My own pieces have been written over several years. Some of these are directly connected to various aspects of the writing process, what you might call the river; and many are ‘tributaries’ – less overtly related to writing but important ‘feeders’ into my approach to the whole adventure.

   Most of the essays are followed by relevant suggestions and exercises. I recommend that you take one of the topics and work with it and around it and through it and within it over a period of days, allowing your own imagination and associative memory to suggest new directions in relation to this topic. Allow the work to take you deep, to settle inside you, to suggest its own directions. Allow it time before moving on.

   You don’t have to work through the book’s contents sequentially. It may be more inspiring to take a serendipitous approach and open the book at random; then use that essay and any associated exercise(s) as a starting point for the week’s musings.

Can writing be taught? Is it about learning? I don’t know. That’s a continuing debate. I believe that while talent may be innate, technique – and, even more importantly, insight – can be learnt or acquired, and talent can then be manifest. It will require continuing dedication and commitment, clearly. The art is in the practice. Learning how to read, how to look, how to listen, properly and wholeheartedly, and then to reflect on what you’ve noticed is all part of that practice. The art of really paying attention.

   There’s the story about the sculptor, asked how on earth he managed to carve a life-size elephant. ‘I simply chip away everything that’s not elephant,’ he replied.

   Maybe writing’s like that too. Maybe it’s about peeling away everything that’s not what you want to say. As you work through this book, what I hope you will find is the courage to be the writer you could be as well as the writer you already are; and to allow your writing to feed your life, as your life feeds your writing.

© Roselle Angwin, 2004/2014


  1. I still have my copy, battered and well used. I once took it on a walk, following the instructions to the letter but it was raining so notebook and the Bright Moment got damp. I'm less rigid though dip in and re-read every so often. Good luck with this edition! love Marg

  2. Lovely to hear that, Marg! Books are like shoes – more comfortable when they're worn and battered...

    Love to you


  3. No need to blush, it is an excellent and inspirational book! Got me thinking like a writer at a time when I was quite frozen off from that essential part of myself. So glad to see it republished,
    J xx

  4. One of the best books of its kind.

  5. Sophia, thank you for that vote of confidence!

  6. I have read many books about approaches to writing and when Writing the bright Moment was first published in 2005 I immediately ordered a copy. It's been with me everywhere since then as I have moved around the country a bit. Now I'm settled somewhere else and I often go back, deep into its pages. It's not only about writing; it's about living the writing from all kinds of directions - mind, body, spirit, elements and so forth. I'm thrilled to see it back in print!

  7. Julius, you are a sweetheart. Thank you for that lovely affirmation. I often think about you; wonder how you're doing. With love, Rxx


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