Archives for category: Writing & Me

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The washing-up
Writing in my notebook
Organising my wardrobe
Dicking around on Twitter/Facebook/Path/Whatsapp
Reading a book
Phoning a friend
Looking out of the window
Eating ice cream
Going for a run (to avoid writing)
Writing this list (to avoid running)
Looking at my medals
Watching makeup tutorials, samba videos and Awkward Black Girl on YouTube
Flicking through old copies of Mslexia, Runner’s World and Women’s Running
Descaling the taps
Cleaning the bathroom
Seasoning the chicken
Calling my sister or BFF just to say ‘hey’

I’m really excited about this 😀

It’s going to be called Camp NaNoWriMo – basically NaNo in the summer. Which is cool, except I hate camping. All those bugs and spiders, not knowing if a bear is going to come and eat me in the middle of the night, and sleeping rough in a bag under a bag. That, round my way, is known as a ‘long ting’. Ain’t gonna happen.

Writing camp, though? Writing camp I can do. Bring the marshmallows!

I’m looking forward to the break in my training where I can devote some summer time to my book. Yay 🙂

This book cried out from my crowded bookshelf right before I left the house today, begging to be read:

I’ve been thinking about my novel, and the short stories I want to write. Plot has always been a problem – once the Big Idea comes to me, how do I turn this into a workable story? I could go a bit crazy and non-linear-meandering here, but I’m going to stick with the ‘beginning-middle-end’ format. It seems to have worked for a lot of other people.

Plot is basically the last on which the shoe of your story is formed, at least as I understand it. You can have the same plot underpinning a heap of different stories, across the galaxy of genres.

The fundamental problem I’m having with my meisterwork is that the characters don’t have a framework to shape their motivations.

Is my central character undergoing a physical Metamorphosis? (I was going to ‘get’ her pregnant), a Transformation? (she is going through a considerable Life Change) or a Maturation? (I wanted her to grow from being an irresponsible coke-snorting wally who falls over a lot, to someone who can take better care of herself and empathise with others.) Or perhaps it’s a straight love story (this is a rom-com after all) with elements of all the above?

I don’t know yet. I do know that until I have that straight, none of the character development I’ve done will hang right.

Today on Twitter I came across two very different quotes, which perfectly illustrate how similar writing and running are:

Womensrunninguk 

RT @runningquotes:”Be not afraid of going slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” -Chinese proverb via @FGFitness

AdviceToWriters 

I don’t understand this whole concept of writer’s block. If I get stuck, I work on another scene. MICHAEL ONDAATJE #amwriting #writing

The lesson here is this:

Get up. Go. Keep going. And if you come to a dead end, change your route.

The worst thing a writer can do is not write – even if all you’re writing is crap, and you only write for 10 minutes a day. Words, miles, it doesn’t matter.

That’s a real comfort to someone struggling with a novel and sluggish morning runs; as long as I keep going, even in little increments, I’ll break through.

Is this what’s called a beautiful struggle?

I’ve booked my place on one of the upcoming Creative Writing School workshops and have just finished my second block of these, having gone to the initial sell-out run of classes, which started last year at the Southbank Centre’s Literature and Spoken Word festival in 2010. They’re run by Greg Mosse, who teaches on West Dean College’s MA Creative Writing.

First up, I’ll be straight: if you’re not used to having ideas shot down or critiqued (however gently) then you need to be prepared for it. Going to Creative Writes and being used to reading out my work in a small group has girded my ego somewhat.

This is more of a class format than the Creative Writes workshops, and I find it’s been the perfect counterbalance to a softer group format. Greg Mosse is a lecturer, so is used to teasing ideas out of slightly terrified-looking students! In past sessions we’ve covered plot, setting, dialogue, suspense, characters and tapping into your own experience as a basis for fiction.

Each session is structured, so we know what to expect, and what to expect to achieve at the end of it. We’re taken through solo and group written exercises, sometimes having to swap people around so we get to talk, mingle and bounce ideas off relative strangers – not to mention occasionally presenting ideas that you came up with in your old group, to a whole new group of people. The techniques we’re taught are geared towards writing successful commercial and literary fiction, and we’re taught to take cues from TV and film writing. This might seem a bit odd, but consider this: our expectations of written fiction have been raised by visual media, with its quick transitions and tightly-structured scenes.

You don’t have to write as if writing for TV or film  as we’re not looking at screenwriting, but you do have to give your audience a reason to turn the pages; the sentence structure you’d have used maybe 30 years ago is as anachronistic as a TV drama from 30 years ago. When I watched the classic I, Claudius, for example, I found the scenes were long and wordy, with little supplementary action. Compare that to a modern TV drama, and you can really see the difference: old programme feels old. No matter how riveting the story, you have to work harder to pay attention because we live in an ADD world… Oh hey! What’s this? *plays with shiny thing dangled in front of me*. Ahem. We’ve become accustomed to shorter, quicker scenes, and fiction has to keep up with that.

I’ve found the workshops challenging, but in the best possible way; as a result, my writing has improved. Greg is really nice and approachable, and I’ve chatted to him about my own novel and how best to structure it. I’ve learned about what readers expect from contemporary fiction, and how writers can use visual techniques to give this to them. For instance, you don’t spell out to the reader that ‘X thought Y was a bit of a dick, that’s D-I-C-K…’, but you use plot devices, conflict, dialogue and character development to reveal this. Think of it as a 360° approach. You know this instinctively when reading good fiction – even when reading shit fiction that you can’t put down – but putting what works into practice isn’t easy.

Top Tip: ‘Show, don’t tell’ basically means, er, ‘tell by showing’. Instead of explicitly explaining the context of the story … no, you’re boring me already. Go straight to the action. No ‘Marie was thirty-nine, divorced, she was broke and had six hungry children to feed, blah blah blah…’ Save that for the blurb.

Pass this and go straight to Marie counting her pennies and struggling to buy enough food in the supermarket, looking longingly at the pale skin and indentation of a wedding ring on her finger, coming home and crying over the decree nisi while her children ran around, the pangs of hunger in her belly… you get the picture. But don’t remain on setting the scene too long, because you still need to pull all those other levers – plot, character, pace, dialogue etc. – to keep the story moving. That’s the aim: keep it moving till the very end; that’s where you want your reader to be.

 

 

 

I want to finish my novel and develop short stories, maybe even – gasp – poetry. However, I was starting to feel that my creative writing skills were limited not by imagination, but by techniques for expressing my ideas. Oh, and writer’s block. We don’t like writer’s block. Boo, hiss!

For any writer the best place to start, to protect the gently-blossoming and delicate ego, is a group workshop which offers no feedback, encourages you to be productive, and gets you used to your own voice. This is where Creative Writes comes in.

I got put on to this through attending the Urban Writers Retreats in London and considering I’d never attended a writer’s group, circle, anything, I can honestly say I’ve landed on my feet. Here’s why. First: Nichola Charalambou, the facilitator, is lovely. She’s supportive, kind and approachable. Second: The groups are small, and we’re encouraged not to give any feedback. Third: We’re encouraged (but not obliged) to share, to read out our work – anything from the products of 10-minute free flows, to short story exercises and poems.

You might think ‘what’s the point of not having feedback?’ and ‘won’t reading your work out loud make you nervous and affect what you write?’. The point of not having feedback is to create a safe space, free of explicit approval or disapproval, thus freeing you up to write whatever comes into your head. This is very much a good thing; you’re not expected to perform for an audience, and Teh Fearz you get – ‘OMG, everyone’s going to hate it’ – is removed.

You feel you’re in a safe space, and you tend to find everyone picks up on the nurturing, positive vibe. You can always say ‘no’ to reading your work, if you’ve tapped into something painful while doing a free-flow exercise. That’s OK. For me, knowing my work might be read out was scary at first – even though I’ve been shouting into the internet for years – but it’s become exciting now. I look forward to it, and it’s stood me in good stead for more in-your-face (but no less rigorous) workshops.

Here’s the ‘unicorns and kittens’ bit

I believe that creating art is about releasing your precious creation go into the world; letting your imagination stagger unaided, blinking, into the cold light of day. So what if it’s unfinished? So what if it’s crap? What matters in your development as a writer, an artist, is getting your work out there and getting it heard, learning to feel confident in your own words, your own voice.  When I read aloud I suddenly become six years old again, reading stories to my parents, doing the character voices (shout out to fellow Story Teller fans…), inhabiting the little world I’ve created in 10 minutes flat. And then we move on to the next exercise. You’re in the moment, it passes, and another one comes along.

That process is really important – think, create, share, move on. You forget you haven’t written in ages and find yourself with 2 or 3 pieces of work, so it’s productive; instant self-esteem boost! You don’t get any feedback but you can sense that people are tuning in to what you’re saying, and you might even get a reaction – bingo! – I love making people feel something. That’s also what creating is about. You learn to own your work and stand up in it, plus you create things you didn’t think your brain would let you, in the 10 minutes you’re given to write something down.

Occasionally, things happen…

I was given a photo of two young boys and asked to write a story about the photo. The two boys became a disabled boy, and his older brother, who was in his early teens. The older boy spoke of his mix of feelings: love, pride, sense of duty, frustration and occasional shame, at having a disabled brother. But the reaction of a fellow workshopper was that it had hit pretty close to home: it turned out that she had 2 sons. The younger of them had a disability. The older was in his early teens. I’d somehow tapped into some kind of energy that let me channel his thoughts and feelings with painful honesty. I didn’t know this before I wrote the story; I don’t know where it came from.

If you’re looking to nurture and explore your writing talent without judgement, and learn to silence your grumpy inner editor (who has nothing to edit because you’re too scared of it to write. No wonder it’s such a pain in the arse), this is the place to do it.

I’m in the thick of my third block of sessions, and I have a tool kit of invaluable techniques which have helped improve my writing, and got me writing more regularly. I don’t tend to sit around with an idea in my head for too long, and I’m less afraid of chucking something down on paper, worrying about how it looks. Writing is like throwing clay: you need to have a raw lump of it before you can shape it into something beautiful. With writing, though, you need to magick that lump out of thin air first. Once you learn how to do that, you can kick writer’s block in the balls.

Oh, and there’s tea and biscuits. As any writer knows, this is essential brain food! Last night we were served up those Digestives with the caramel… oh, sweet, crack-laced, biscuity joy.

Top Tip: Feeling stuck? Crack open the notebook and write, at the top of the page: ‘I feel/I don’t feel/I am/I am not/I am lying in bed/I am <INSERT ACTION HERE>’ or any variation you can think of on that theme. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Write as fast as you can think. Don’t stop to order your thoughts, just get them down. There. You’ve written something. You’re welcome.

Never ones to shy away from shockingly shit and surreal imagery (sorry, that kind of thing is not my thing), they continue on their merry mission to bitchslap the outer limits of logic and language with this offer:

In addition to abiding the mortification of being buried by dogs and then dug up again by interfering archaeologists, skeletons are grouchy because they lack the muscles necessary to get massaged. Avoid taking your body for granted with today’s Groupon: for £33 body armour will be enlightened with a choice of Elemis Facial whilst muscles soothed with one of two massages at Cleo Clinic.

Aching bodies and weary skin-chassis’ can find solace at this high-end Elemis-accredited establishment, where the aim is to share their passion for bone-appeasing happiness with like-minded clients on the look for unrivalled solace.

And they have a guide to help them write like this http://read.bi/h4uS5F.

*kills self*

 

 

Central Saint Martin’s sent an emailer last week exhorting me to ’emerse’ myself in a course. Is that, like, even totally deeper than immersing myself?

Nope. According to my Chambers Dictionary, ’emerse’ is an adjective (botany) meaning leaves and things ‘rising above the surface of water’.

FAIL