essay six/ final notes
In my second essay, I asked you to purchase a pack of postcards and commit to writing down notes every single day. One day, one postcard. My hope is that by the end of one month, you might have approximately 30/31 postcards on your desk, neatly stacked with a memory, a note, an observation jotted down on each one. So now what, you might say?
Now, sift. Sift through them. Is there a theme running through them that only you can see, and if so, can you bunch one set of postcards together, making small groups of those that seem to pick up where another left off? Perhaps there’s a theme beginning to form, in both what you choose to remember and what you choose to continue to observe. This, then, is the making of something - this is the shaping of your perspective, that is to say, the way you look at the world, and it is also shaping your writing voice. Memoir, a word I avoided using for fear of scaring you off at the very beginning, is all about perspective, after all. It is as much about showing us how you see the world as it is that you see yourself. This is what makes it so acutely intimate.
Plus, on a very simple level, looking over your notes in this coherent way reveals your subject matter too. If all your notes are on your family life, then there’s your theme. If food marks the moments of your every day, then there too is your theme. If you find yourself constantly filling in the blanks and making stories up about strangers you happen to observe, then perhaps your talent lies in fiction. There’s no end to the possibilities.
Perhaps, as you sift through your stack, you can already see that the markings of notes on one postcard could be drawn out into something much longer, a vignette perhaps. Then there’s a blog post for you already, or maybe even the beginnings of a short story to flesh out. Can you see how two or three postcards might thread together, form a flow? Perhaps there’s a longer essay there, or the beginnings of a chapter, or maybe the outline for three chapters in a row. But maybe all these postcards are too distinct and they all standalone, in which case that’s fine too - write them, extend them, into their own little individual bite size portions. Fill in the gaps with those brushstrokes of colour I talked about before, in which you write not only of what you see but of what you feel.
If you’re exceptionally lucky and feel like you’re on a winning run, then perhaps each postcard might be extended into, oh I don’t know, one thousand words? Then that’s 30 or 31,000 words - that’s a slim book of memories you might self-produce as a gift for your loved ones, half a manuscript to send to an agent, or the workings of an outline you might turn into a script.
My point, I suppose, is now that you have these postcards, you have something. You have a beginning. Perhaps you already have a middle and an end too, but if not - at the very least, you have the beginning. You don’t even have to define it. You have possibility.
There’s still so much we could work on - on crafting your prose, your description, your style, on learning to write from a place that is focused and still; but that comes after the small start (and if it interests you, that’s everything we do in The Quiet Words too). Considering most of you upon this course have told me you have never written before, then the fact you have simply at least made these notes, made yourself look and remember and notice and listen, is incredible. It is, as I just wrote, something.
For those of you who write regularly, then I hope Postcards Home has offered you a chance to shake yourself free of the shackles of expectation and look at writing in a way which is almost experimental, free from constraints of what you should and should not write or do or say. I hope it’s renewed your love of writing and given you a new way to consider approaching writing in that first-person, personal voice.
I hope that for all of you, through Postcards Home, you’ve allowed yourself some time to reflect, something we rarely ever permit ourselves to do, and more than that: you wrote it down. Do you feel like the world looks a little sharper for it? That the corners aren’t quite so blurred? Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t - maybe you’re still looking for focus. In which case, keep going. Keep making notes, jot down them down as and when you can and try to remember what it is about the event, the memory, the moment, that makes it meaningful. I would argue that it’s almost always about the way something makes you feel than anything else in the world.
So as we come to the end of Postcards Home, I urge you to hold onto that feeling of knowing the world is yours for the observation, for the understanding of it. Write it down. Write life down. Every time you feel frightened or frozen by pen or by keyboard, unsure of how or where to start, then spell it out, quite literally, as though you were writing for a toddler: “This is how I feel.”
Meanwhile, learn to love language. Read all manner of books, stretch your capacity to express yourself. Again, this is something I write more of in The Quiet Words but for now, if writing about your life inspires you, then read everything and anything you can of the life of others. Learn from them; learn from what they write in and what they write out.
And finally: keep at it. The more you practice taking notes, making observations, looking for the little things, then the less obnoxious or self-righteous writing feels. The less self-conscious you feel. It is not merely an indulgence to write in your own voice. It is, I would say, both important and urgent. It is how you stay in touch with yourself, so you know better what might become of you next.
My hope is only that Postcards Home has inspired you, moved you in some way.
Listen, watch, observe, note. The rest will come.
Good luck with your writing journeys and by all means, please write to me. Let me know what it is you write of. Let me know what it is that moves you.
I leave you with this; a quote from the novelist Orhan Panuk, from his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize. It is quote I turn to greatly, when I need reminding that the work of a writer is never done; that we must continue to unearth the worlds we have grown from:
So, go now.
Dig the well, with the finest needle you might find.
I’m so honoured that you chose to spend your time on Postcards Home with me. If this course has moved you in some way, or if you have any suggestions at all, please do share your testimonials with me. You can write to me here.