Author Archives: TinaSederholm

About TinaSederholm

Poet, author and raconteur. Intermittent idealist, reluctant feminist and recovering workaholic. Writer and performer of four one-woman shows, including Till Debt Us Do Part. First collection, Everything Wrong With You Is Beautiful, is available from Burning Eye. Second collection, This is Not Therapy, published July 2021.

Make Every Word Work

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I’ve spent the last couple of months doing the final edits on my latest collection, This Is Not Therapy. My aim is to make sure that every word earns its’ keep. Repetitions and a certain looseness that you can get away with in the heat of a performance lessen the power of a piece on the page.

For a process that mostly involves changing one or two words, adding commas, changing line breaks, it can take a long time. The reason being, I know the poems so well by now that every time I make a change, I need to step away from it for a minimum of a couple of days. This allows me to re-approach it with fresh eyes, to see if the change works.

This is the last stage of the editing process. Previously I have written and re-written these pieces, maybe from a different entry point, swapped verses around, split a poem in two and written two fresh poems for each half. I’ve tested them out loud, to myself and the poor dogs, and on audiences. I listen for the clunks, which I experience as a twinge in my belly. I listen to see if I lose connection with the words and am just hurrying to get to the end, or if the audience slumps at any point during it.

I’ve sent the poems out to friendly readers, both experienced writers and enthusiastic non-writers. Usually I’ll send a piece out to two or three people and note their reactions. I don’t take their corrections or responses as gospel, but I do test their suggestions out to see if I agree with them. I’ve learnt that when I  think, ‘No, you’re wrong about that,’ in a defensive way to one of my reader’s suggestions, that there is probably something there for me. It might not be absolutely what they suggested, but they will have cottoned on to the presence of a clunk, even if they haven’t accurately identified it.

In this final stage, I work with a copy editor. She is meticulous about grammar and also picks me up on certain words that are fluffy or vague.

Although it’s quite frustrating that every time I think I’m finished, I find I’m not, it’s also gratifying to keep coming back and polishing some more. The most common complaint I hear from first time published poets is that they wish they had been more stringent with their editing. A year down the line, they are performing a poem and wince when they get to a certain line, realising that it doesn’t work. But now it is in print.

Of course, there’s also danger in over-editing. Paul Gardner said, ‘A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places.’ The same applies to a poem. You will know when you have reached an interesting place when you feel an ‘Ahhh’ feeling landing in your stomach. 

At least, that’s how it feels to me. Your body may speak differently to you. Get to know your own sense of ‘landing’, of feeling at one with the world. That is how you will know when your poem is done.

Tina Sederholm is a poet, raconteur and theatre-maker. Creator of four successful solo shows that have been reviewed as ‘Utterly enthralling’ *****(edfringe review.com), ‘Stunning…beautifully humbling’ ***** (ThreeWeeks) and ‘A Must-See Show’ (Fringe Review), she is currently working on her latest poetry collection, This is Not Therapy. When not creating her own work, she works as a poetry and prose editor and story consultant. Email tina@tinasederholm.com for more information on ways she can assist you with your latest book, collection, script or poem.

Reader, they got married. Now what?

You know that point in a tv comedy show, usually about four or five series in, when the main characters, who have been duelling in a ‘will they won’t they’ scenario, finally get together, and their wedding is the climax of the series? Then when the next series starts, it’s never as good? You got what you wanted, but now the engine has gone out of the story. Because even when they fall out, you know they will make up.

I feel like that at the moment. I’ve figured out that I cause 99.9% of my own dramas. Or at least I am a major contributor. My response to most situations is the root of my happiness, or my despair. So now what? Now how do I tell stories, when I know there is not really a monster to overcome? And after all, that ’s the end of The Wizard of Oz. The whole adventure was in Dorothy’s imagination and she had everything she needed, right here at home.

I am not faced by any insurmountable problem. Niles has Daphne. Jake has Amy. It’s where Friends was so clever – Ross and Rachel were an issue right to the end. In fact, it looked like it would be a disaster if they got together. And in Parks and Recreation, Lesley and Ben work because their romance is not the main thrust of the story. The driving force is Lesley’s insane desire to be President, or at least make her city a better place. A totally insurmountable problem. 

Which makes me think I should have an insane desire. Something wholly improbable. Wildly unlikely. A one woman show at the Royal Albert Hall. My own live tv show. Anything as long as it brings joy and I love imagining it.

I used to have big dreams, but spent most of my time unhappy because I was so far away from achieving them. So I decided not to think big for a few years. But that got boring. Time to think big again, but this time also find joy in the here and now. Lesley, in many ways my heroine, is always trying to find ways to make Pawnee a better place. More fun, more health and community spirit.

That feels like a good place to start.

What to do when a poem isn’t working

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I once wrote a poem called ‘ A single vial of electric blue light.’ The image came from a vivid dream that I couldn’t shake off. A brilliant artist I knew, and had once been in love with, sat on my bed (in the dream) with a beatific smile on his face. When I woke, (still in the dream) he handed me a vial filled with effervescent blue light.

The image wouldn’t leave me alone. It had to be a poem. I decided to make it a sestina. Not a form I’d practiced much, but its repetitive line scheme would suit the ever returning nature of this image. 

So I wrote it and re-wrote by hand every day. Moulded it, edited, mithered over every word. I applied myself to this poem like the excellent apprentice I am. Spent months crafting it. Finally it felt ready to take to my poetry group. After they read it, there was a thoughtful silence. Which gradually became uncomfortable. The kind of silence which is a held breath in which you can hear the clicking of brain cogs as people search for an encouraging comment.

Eventually a talented and prolifically published member said, ‘I would write another poem, if I were you. Maybe a sonnet.’

She wasn’t being mean. The awkward silence had already told me what I suspected but didn’t want to hear. I had mullah’d that poem through overwork and over attention. Tried so hard to make it perfect that I’d squeezed the juice out of it. Also reminiscent of the way I had driven the dream man away in real life.

I wish I’d known then what I know now. If you put a poem in a drawer and let it stew for a while, the magic fairy poets come and re-arrange the words…no, that’s not it. 

But it feels like it. I have had to learn to be brave enough to put first, second, fifth drafts away for a while. That rather than drilling constantly at a piece, if I leave it for a day, a week, I change. I take a deep breath and relax. I see it from a new perspective. And the solution to what’s not working comes to me spontaneously. 

Writing poetry doesn’t have to be hard or effortful. It needs to be a conversation. The hard part is turning up and paying attention to what the poem is trying to tell you.

Tina Sederholm is a poet, raconteur and theatre-maker. Creator of four successful solo shows that have been reviewed as ‘Utterly enthralling’ *****(edfringe review.com), ‘Stunning…beautifully humbling’ ***** (ThreeWeeks) and ‘A Must-See Show’ (Fringe Review), she is currently working on her latest poetry collection, This is Not Therapy. When not creating her own work, she works as a poetry and prose editor and story consultant. Email tina@tinasederholm.com for more information on ways she can assist you with your latest book, collection, script or poem.

WHY ‘STAY HOME’ MAKES MORE SENSE THAN ‘STAY ALERT’ – A POET’S PERSPECTIVE

So how have you done with a week of Stay Alert? Confused? Not sure if you can bring yourself to pay Mum to clean your house so she can legally visit? In recognising the need for a nuanced change to the rules, the Government has thrown people into confusion, and their further explanations haven’t helped. Why can you only visit one parent (who is quite likely to be living with your other parent) but then visit the other one ten minutes later? Presumably so you can spread the blame of who infected who. Was it the Covid I gave to Dad, that he just gave to you, Mum, or did I pass it on directly?

Of course it makes sense to gradually re-introduce ourselves to each other, and I guess the Government’s underlying message is ‘Use your common sense.’ Which is fine, if you have common sense.

But I think the issue with Stay Alert as opposed to Stay Home is more basic. Any poet or writer knows that concrete images, not concepts, engage the reader. Any sentence that features our senses – see, taste, touch etc – involves the reader at an emotional level, not just an intellectual one. Stay Alert is a horribly wafty phrase. It’s a concept.  It doesn’t evoke a personal response. Plus it’s exhausting and anxiety-inducing, being on alert all the time.

’Home’ is something we all relate to and have a sense of, within ourselves. A place of safety (for the majority), somewhere we feel grounded. It is a concrete image, of a house, a flat, a shelter.

Consider this. Colorado Governor Jared Pollis replaced the stay-at-home-order with a Safer At Home order.

Safer At Home says to me, you can venture out, but you’d be better staying at home. Safer At Home gives me a choice, based on my particular circumstances. And it encourages me to mostly keep doing what I have been doing, with limited excursions, which feels more responsible. I don’t have to think about it. The very phrase resonates in my bones. Because it’s an image.

And this, my friend, is why the world needs poets.

Tina Sederholm is a poet, raconteur and theatre-maker. Creator of four successful solo shows that have been reviewed as ‘Utterly enthralling’ *****(edfringe review.com), ‘Stunning…beautifully humbling’ ***** (ThreeWeeks) and ‘ A Must-See Show’ (Fringe Review), she is currently working on her new show, REST. When not creating her own work, she works as a poetry and prose editor and story consultant. Email tina@tinasederholm.com for more information on ways she can assist your creative project.

In Praise of Spaciousness

What Don’t You Miss?

Lockdown has restricted us in all sorts of ways, and in this changed world there will be things you are longing to get back to. But what do you not miss?

Think about it. There’s at least one thing that you are not currently obliged to do. You’ll know it by the huge sigh of relief you experience when you think about not doing it.

Maybe it’s the commute. Or a meeting that could have been done in an email. Filling out application forms. The noise of aeroplanes. Or small talk. 

Perhaps it’s something more esoteric. Anxiety about deadlines. Feeling obliged to go to parties and gigs even when you’re knackered.

Okay, honesty check. These are all mine. And I’m thinking, when we do go back to the new normal, how many of these can I leave behind? Am I brave enough to be more authentic and say ‘No’ to social occasions when I’m tired? Can I refuse to indulge in small talk?

And won’t that support me in being more discerning? Give me more time at the things I do miss. The library. Good gigs. Collaborating with other artists. Time with friends.

You can apply the same logic to editing a poem. One brave way to clean up a poem is to go through it with a highlighter and run it over all the lines that don’t directly reference images. In other words, phrases that don’t connect to your senses. 

Now read your poem without the highlighted lines. Can hear how much better it is without the explanation? Let it jump from image to image and feel the space in-between. You may need to put one or two of the highlighted lines back in, but do it as sparingly as you dare. Your readers and your life won’t miss them and will thank you.

Tina Sederholm is a poet, raconteur and theatre-maker. Creator of four successful solo shows that have been reviewed as ‘Utterly enthralling’ *****(edfringe review.com), ‘Stunning…beautifully humbling’ ***** (ThreeWeeks) and ‘ A Must-See Show’ (Fringe Review), she is currently working on her new show, REST. When not creating her own work, she works as a poetry and prose editor and story consultant. Email tina@tinasederholm.com for more information on ways she can assist your creative project.

First Drafts and Field Reports

So you’ve finished a draft of your novel or script. Hurrah!

Now what?

Put it in a drawer for at least a couple of weeks. Yep. You need to forget all about it. Recover, take a break, play around with some easy pieces if you prefer to keep your hand in.

When you’ve had sufficient time and distraction to forget about your story, you are now in a position to plan the next draft, and my favourite approach is to write a field report.

I have a bit of a ritual around this. Either I’ll go to a cafe and order a large pot of tea, or I’ll curl up on the sofa at home. If it’s cold outside, I put the fire on, and again, with the tea. I make sure I’m in a generous mood. This is still a raw piece of work so I don’t want my hyper-critical self to be too active. If I’m nosy or nervous, I get myself into the right sort of mood by dancing to a silly song or listening to one of my favourite funny poets. Then I sit down and read the whole thing form beginning to end, without stopping to make notes. If that’s not possible, I’ll read for as long I humanly can, and then start the process again early the next morning. I want to stay in the same frame of mind, to the best of my ability.

Once I’ve read the whole thing, I write a field report. Like any piece of feedback, I start with things I like, some encouragement, and then move onto fresh ideas or insights that reading it has inspired. I write my report from the perspective of a wise and generous friend. One who appreciates that telling a good story is a long haul. I rarely criticise, apart from saying things like ‘Need to develop this scene or chapter’ or ‘The reference to Jim Peters can go’. I stay pragmatic and helpful, just as I would if I was doing a report for someone else.

I am always more insightful in this process than I expect. Because I have lost some attachment to the story, I can easily see what works and what doesn’t. I can see the wood for the trees, and what pruning, re-shaping and maybe replanting needs to happen.

One time I started this process and fell asleep whilst reading my own script. I didn’t need to write a report that time. It was obviously boring. I woke up from my nap and realised that I had been shying away from telling the most difficult part of the story. So I girded myself, and began a re-write, starting from the part of the story I had been unwilling to include. Turned out to be my most successful show so far, and the most satisfying to perform.

Tina Sederholm is a poet, raconteur and theatre-maker. Creator of four successful solo shows that have been reviewed as ‘Utterly enthralling’ *****(edfringe review.com), ‘Stunning…beautifully humbling’ ***** (ThreeWeeks) and ‘ A Must-See Show’ (Fringe Review), she is currently working on her new show, REST.

When not creating her own work, she works as a poetry and prose editor. Email tina@tinasederholm.com for more information on ways she can assist your creative project.

Twitter: @tina_sederholm Facebook: facebook.com/tinasederholmperformer

Don’t Do This One Thing Every Day

Yesterday was 5th February, and I finished my 30 days of Yoga with Adriene, which started on 2nd January . I know what you’re thinking. Hang on Tina, if you started 30 days of Yoga on 2nd January, shouldn’t you have completed it on 31st January?

Yes. Technically.

But doing something every day isn’t a challenge that works for me anymore.

When I started writing, one of the first maxims I picked up on was ‘Write Every Day’. The idea is that you lower your resistance to writing by picking up the pen every day. When you have that clear commitment, there’s no get-out clause. Sounds logical, and sort of worthy. How superior am I, if I can do that every day. The problem was, until I’d written that day, I’d walk around in a distracted itch of guilt and shame. It took over my life, and it did get me writing, but the writing often sucked.  Not that the point was to be good, the point was to turn up at the page. And there is value in that. But the writing was horrible because I was so focused on being a good girl and following the rules, so my brain didn’t spend the day in self-abuse. It’s not a great way to live, or motivate yourself.

Then I discovered loads of things you should do ‘every day’. Work out every day, Meditate every day. Walk the dog every day (actually that one is vital. But it should be ‘the dog needs to be walked every day.’ Doesn’t have to be you.) How do you find time to do all these, and go to work and clean the house?

Last year, I did Yoga with Adriene every single day of January. Sometimes it meant getting up at 5 a.m. to fit it in. I did receive many benefits. But I was also exhausted and miserable for the whole of February. And it put me off Yoga. Granted, I was also trying to find a care home for my Dad, and get hospital appointments for my Mum as well as my usual workload. So I had a lot of my plate. But this is the problem with ‘Do this every day’ programmes. They have no flexibility in them.

So this year, I did Yoga with Adriene 5 or 6 days a week. I’d meant to do every day again (I don’t learn these lessons easily) but I had such a horrendous cold at New Year’s, that I threw up on Day 3. I messaged my sister, also a Yoga teacher, in tears. 

‘Are you finding what feels good?’ she wrote back. This is Adriene’s mantra, #findwhatfeelsgood.

‘No.’ I snotted all over my phone.

‘Maybe try sitting and just following the breathing.’ she wrote.

Even that didn’t feel good. Going to bed with a hot water-bottle felt good though.

In the end, I only missed one day in that first week. But I gave myself permission to do the course in my own time. This triggered immense anxiety. I wanted to be one of those people who kept up, who crossed the finish line triumphant at their self-discipline. Otherwise…otherwise what? What was the point? Was I only doing this for a gold medal? Or was I doing it to learn how to better listen to my body, to consistently #findwhatfeelsgood?

I love Yoga with Adriene. I am in awe at her generosity in providing great quality Yoga classes and meditations for free. And she often makes the point that you can do all her programmes at your own pace. It’s just my competitive ears can’t hear that.

So take heart dear friends, if you don’t write every day. Celebrate the days you do write. And celebrate your ability to take a day off, whether it be from writing, meditation or Yoga. It is always feels better when you return. Like seeing an old friend after a trip away. Now that feels really good.

Tina Sederholm is a poet, raconteur and theatre-maker. Creator of four successful solo shows that have been reviewed as ‘Utterly enthralling’ *****(edfringe review.com), ‘Stunning…beautifully humbling’ ***** (ThreeWeeks) and ‘ A Must-See Show’ (Fringe Review), she is currently working on her new show, REST. When not creating her own work, she works as a poetry and prose editor and story consultant. E mail tina@tinasederholm.com for more information on ways she can assist your creative project.

Twitter: @tina_sederholm Facebook: facebook.com/tinasederholmperformer

Start writing. Keep going.

I sold a book on Amazon yesterday. Not an extraordinary fact except that it’s a book I wrote more than twenty years ago. I own all the remaining unsold copies, so I get a rush of delight when an order comes through.

It’s called ‘Words of a Horseman’. My Dad was an equestrian trainer, one of the most famous in the world between the late sixties and early noughties. He had a unique way of teaching which involved telling a lot of stories and using metaphors to illustrated his point. He was dismissive of books that tried to make training a 1-2-3 technical approach because, as one of his favourite sayings went, ‘What is right with a horse on Monday is not always right on Tuesday. ’ He resisted other attempts to get his ideas down on paper, but he agreed to let me try and capture the essence of his philosophy through his stories.

I’m sure that less than 50% of the current generation of competitors will have heard of him, though he trained Olympic teams from four different nations and at least one of his former pupils went on to represent their country at every single World, European and Olympic Championships up until 2016.

So when my small, basically self-published book sells another copy after twenty years, I still can’t quite believe it. Even though the writing of it was an act of self-belief and faith. Even though I got at least 12 rejections because conventional publishers wanted a book of Lars Sederholm exercises. But with the faith of the naive, and nothing to lose except money, time and face, I published it myself.

It got serialised in Horse and Hound. I got a regular column in Your Horse magazine. I organised a distribution deal with a kitchen table equestrian publisher. It sold a couple of thousand copies and I got a book deal for two other equestrian books. I certainly didn’t make a profit.

But most of all I showed myself I could see a dream through. I had a strong desire to make something and I made it.

An act of faith, Of love. I just kept going.

Tina Sederholm is a poet, raconteur and theatre-maker. Creator of four successful sol shows which have been reviewed as ‘Utterly enthralling’ *****(edfringe review.com), ‘Stunning…beautifully humbling’ ***** (ThreeWeeks) and ‘ A Must-See Show’ (Fringe Review). When not creating her own work, she works as a poetry and prose editor and story consultant, and helps other performers create their shows through workshops and one-to-one sessions. E mail tina@tinasederholm.com for more information on ways she can assist your creative project.

You can buy Words of a Horseman here: http://www.tinasederholm.com/buy-some.html

TRUTH AND LIES: USING MEMOIR TO CREATE SHOWS

Are the stories in my shows true? Most of the time they are, at least from my perspective, though sometimes I compress events or combine them in order to serve the narrative. The purist in me used to worry about this, because being truthful is one of my core values. But when I encountered the concept of ‘essence of truth’ , or what you could also call ‘emotional truth’ my obsession with being factually accurate began to subside.

Here’s an example from ‘Everything Wrong Is Beautiful’. The text goes like this:

At 21, I win my first major competition. I’ve totally exceeded everyone’s expectations. I get home to find the barbecue’s fired up, someone’s dragged an enormous stereo stack into the yard that’s blasting out dance music,  and there are several bottles of champagne on the go. I stand in a corner, receiving hug after hug, and ‘Congratulations!’ A world-renowned Swedish rider saunters up to me.

‘How are you feeling?’

I pause, grappling for the right word.

‘Numb.’

It felt traitorous to say it, but it was the truth.

‘Ja-ha. That is how it always feels.’ 

He nodded towards the party. ‘ 

This party isn’t for you. It’s for  the people who helped you get to that victory.  So smile as much as you can, then get to bed early. In the morning, do something ordinary. Muck out a few stables. Because tomorrow, the whole circus begins again.’

First factual change. I didn’t win it. I nearly won it…my horse had a rail down in the last show jumping phase, so I ended up fourth. But it was still a huge achievement. It felt like a victory. And ‘winning’ not only has more impact, but it also summed up how I felt.

Second factual change. I did get back to a surprise celebration but it was just at the famous rider’s house, where he cracked open a bottle of champagne. The surprise party happened another time, where I also felt the same anti-climactic feeling. So here, I compressed two events to intensify the feeling. The famous rider did say those words, or very similar to me. Hey, it was nearly 30 years ago, and our memories, even of significant events, are not as accurate as we believe them to be. But I wrote his words in a way that had the same emotional punch as I felt at that moment.

We often believe that facts equal truth. But they are just the bones. And our factual memories are rarely accurate, and indeed change subtly every time we recall them. Our emotions are more accurate and that is what I try to convey to the audience. 

Don’t lie in your show. Don’t slander, and don’t take someone else’s story and pass it off as your own. But you can play with the facts, move timelines around, as long as you are still serving the essence of truth, the way it felt. The result will resonate with the audience and create an emotional satisfying story.

Tina Sederholm is a poet, raconteur and theatre-maker. Creator of four successful sol shows which have been reviewed as ‘Utterly enthralling’ *****(edfringe review.com), ‘Stunning…beautifully humbling’ ***** (ThreeWeeks) and ‘ A Must-See Show’ (Fringe Review). When not creating her own work, she works as a poetry and prose editor and story consultant, and helps other performers create their shows through workshops and one-to-one sessions. E mail tina@tinasederholm.com for more information on ways she can assist your creative project.

Today I wrote a poem

Today I wrote a poem.

This should not be headline news. I am after all, a poet. More to the point, I am poet with a regular writing habit. I aim to write several poems a week. Many never get past a first draft; they are mere pencil sketches, first runs at something that will later become the main portrait. But the last four weeks have been so fraught.  Our dog Ralph ruptured his cruciate ligament and needed surgery. This is not something to be taken lightly, but having looked after many injured animals, I thought, I can handle this.

Not so. Keeping an energetic three year old Boxer on near lockdown for weeks on end, two infections, one that seems to be a reaction to the plate in his leg itself, with a side order of one of my parents needing a major operation in the next couple of months, and all the attendant hospital visits to discover that this is the only course of action, whilst entertaining guests and Air Bnb-ers and performing at two Fringe Festivals means I haven’t done a lot of writing. And the poems have been queueing up, appearing in my imagination at awkward moments, such as being at the vet for the eighth time following Ralph’s operation as he uses the cone of shame – this thing that should be preventing him from licking the operation site – as a lever to get the dressing off. Innovative yes, useful to the healing process – definitely not.

But this morning when I woke, Ralph was not crying for attention. It was semi-light outside, and so tempting to go back to sleep. But a poem whose title had arrived whilst I had one foot on the dog lead (to stop him ripping off his dressing, whilst his protective pyjamas were drying – don’t ask) and the other hand was hanging washing on the line – who knew your elbow could be so useful – came back. They don’t always. No doubt the original idea is currently blowing across the fields towards another home – another writer’s ear who is more tuned in – but the title had remained and a first line came along. So I picked my notebook up, leant against the pillow and wrote for about ten minutes. It felt so good. It felt good to listen to the impulse to write. It felt good to hear and jot down some surprising lines. And it felt most good because i haven’t done it for several weeks. So it’s even been worth not writing. No time was lost. I fell in love again.

Today, when I wrote a poem.