A Three Month Kick in the Pants

Many of us writers often complain about having to fit our writing around other mundane things, such as work, kids and spouses. Many often dream about how we could write forever if only we had the time to do it.

Well, sometimes you shouldn’t wish for something, just incase you get it.

Me? Well, I’ve just recently been informed that I’m about to be made redundant. So, I suspect I’m going to be just falling around with time on my hands in the next few months.

It didn’t come as a surprise and, being a complete control freak, I do happen to have something else lined up. However, that isn’t until September and I suspect my services are about to be unrequired by the end of June.

So, my maths suggest that I have around three months; July, August and September to make something happen other than keeping my wife happy (washing on the line, kitchen floor mopped, stairs vacuumed etc.). As it happens, that’s just the right amount of time that a certain Stephen King suggest it should take to write the first draft of a novel!

I’m looking at this as an opportunity to turn a frown upside-down and get my novel up to first draft standard.

However, I still do have some more-than-mundane plates that I need to keep spinning;

  •  A spring-clean of the amuteforamuse blog
  •  Keeping the amuteforamuse blog updated
  •  Working on getting my website up and running
  •  Completing my Creative Writing MA
  •  Researching / studying for my new venture (more about that nearer the time)

The good news is that I’m already 85000 words into my first draft, the bad news is that I’ve not touched it in a long time. I’m feeling a mixture of panic, fear and excitement all at once, I know it will be the end of September in no time (and the time is going to pass anyway, isn’t it?) but I’m hoping to use this experience as a stepping-stone to something positive.

Term 1 Assignment: MA Creative Writing Summary

After spending the first eight weeks of the course working on the core skills and techniques, it was time for the assignment.

The assigment was in two parts; participation, which was related to how active you were on the forums, discussions and workshops, and also written work which was a body of your own creative writing (4000 words) and a personal creative writing ‘manifesto’ (2000).

I had planned to write a short story for the creative writing element but, at the last moment, took a risk to update the first chapter of my novel and use that – after all it would be marked by published authors and it gave me the chance to get some excellent feedback.

The manifesto itself, which can be found here, I found quite difficult simply because I felt I had to tell someone how writing should be and I don’t have any authority to do it.  The only way I could complete this was to convince myself that this manifesto was personal only to me.

All-in-all, I felt this first term was very successful for me. I learned a lot about the basics of writing and picked up some good knowledge on my own work (and others) via the use of the workspaces.  The writing exercises kept me busy and the reading material was, in the main, intersting and worthwhile.

 

Term 1, Week 8 : MA Creative Writing Summary

Week 8 was the culmination of the previous weeks whereby we worked on our Creative Manifesto.

Apart from the completion of the manifesto and the submission, there were some simple aims to cover the other aspects of study that we’d been doing. These included learning more about presenting manuscripts to a professional standard, continuing to provide feeback to our peers and working with our tutor to develop the final manifesto.

The writing exercise was just about polishing the manifesto and making sure it read correctly, and that there were no glaring errors in it.

In terms of reflection, I did enjoy this first term and it certainly opened my eyes up to aspects of writing that I hadn’t given a though to, especially the manifesto weeks.  I discovered new ways of just starting to write, via rituals, and I also enjoyed the work spent in gathering ideas though the different mediums.

I do have to admit that I found the manifesto work quite difficult.  I very much feel that creative writing is a personal action which means I find it difficult to tell people how they should do it.  That’s quite ironic seeing as I’m doing a creative writing course, but I see that as someone telling me where a destination is, but then letting me choose whichever route to that destination that I prefer.  Now, with a manifesto, I got the feeling that I was being asked to tell people what is wrong, and what isn’t.

Still, I did enjoy working on the manifesto and I’m glad that I completed it. I’ll get it added to a page at the top of the blog in next couple of days so people can read it and let me know what they think.

Next week, I’ll be posting the notes I made from term 2, Writing and the Self.

 

Plans for World Domination

My wife always tells me things happen for reason, I’ve always found it good advice that has proved its value in the past on a number of occasions.  It’s the thing that got me through losing my parents to cancer within a couple of months of each other, and it’s also the reason that I still felt my cup was half-full on the morning I was told my job was moving to the other end of the country. I’ve been given the option of moving or taking a redundancy settlement but balancing the loyalty I’ve given to this company for over twenty-five years against the thought of uprooting my family and driving a three-hundred mile divide between me and my children isnt a difficult decision.

I’ve been given the proverbial ‘kick-in-the-pants’ that has forced me to grab the future with both hands and finally do something that makes me happy.  I’ve always wanted to be a university lecturer in either IT or Creative Writing but I know I’m still a few years away from that yet (PHD and teaching experience must come first).

The good news is that my previous studies that I undertook to further my current career has set me in good stead for a teaching career; an MSc in Computers, as well as an MA in Creative Writing (hopefully).  Unfortunately, teaching in the UK has been given a rough ride in recent years and we do have a number of gaps in the industry which I hope I can do my little bit to fill.

I’ve been offline for a few weeks whilst I get a few things in order, mainly what my five year plan is going to be, whilst paying most attention to the next year or so. My daughter gave me a journal for my birthday last year.  As an accomplished deputy headmistress she always has a knack for getting me gifts that she know I’ll put to good use (it’s something I like to think that I’ve passed on to her!). So, I’ve been spending my time filling in bits of this journal recently and I’m beginning to see the outlines of a plan beginning to form;

July 2016 – Redundancy
September 2016 – Teacher Training / Post Graduate Certificate in Education
September 2017 – Graduate with Qualified Teacher Status
October 2017 – (hopefully) land a teaching role
January 2018 – Begin PHD
2021 – Teaching & Lecturing.

Writing these details down doesn’t fill me with the dread that someone facing redundancy might feel, instead it gives me a confidence and it feels like a breath of fresh air.

Oh, and the words that were scribbled on the cover of the journal that my daughter gave me?

“Plans for World Domination….”

Term 1, Week 7: MA Creative Writing Summary

Week 7 was the final week of our work towards the end-of-term assignment; Creating a personal writing manifesto. This particular week leaned more toward discussions of other creative manifestos and had less content which allowed us to concentrate more on our own manifesto.

The weekly video was an interview with the senior curator at MIMA, the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, a chap called Miguel Amado. I felt this was a very awkward interview for a number of reasons. Firstly, Miguel stated that his favourite word was black, and that he has only ever worn black clothes since he was a teenager. Furthermore, he suggested that this was an extension of his personality – something I found very difficult to understand, especially as his work in modern art must introduce him to colour on a daily basis. Secondly, I thought the manifesto discussion was very much politically biased, discussing topics such as ‘Futurismo, the Communist manifesto by Marx and Engels, and the Cannibalist manifesto. I have to admit this was a very deep interview; I’m not very politically motivated and, whilst I do respect his views, they aren’t something that I can relate to.

There were no keywords for this week which I found comforting as my mind had been blown to bits by the weekly video by that point.

The writing exercise for this week was a group-based exercise where we all had to come together to form a group manifesto. As with all of the workspace tasks, there is no right or wrong answer, and there is a healthy amount of respect paid to all who post in it. Due to this, I felt that our own groups manifesto was quite poor, being little more than individual statements that we posted with no-one willing to argue, nor discuss, what anyone else had written. I think we missed a great opportunity with this being so close to our assignment work.

Supporting materials pointed us in the direction of the Imagist Poets, which was a group of poets brought together as a school of images. It seemed to be quite a brief movement as critics marked it from 1908 – 1917. The rest of the reading material were references to the manfiestos that Miguel mentioned during his interview and also a look at the ways that MIMA is using localism, useful art and arte util.

As the workshop this week was the group exercise, there were no individual critiques at all. So I’m still waiting for any comments.

Term 1, Week 6: MA Creative Writing Summary

Weeks 6 and 7 both work together to present us with the idea of a manifesto for our writing. I have to admit that I never really thought of a writing manifesto but as the week went on, I did begin to feel like it was something I could get to grips with.

The keywords for this week included manifest, beliefs, values and voice – all quite clear attributes for a manifesto-based introduction. They helped provide the thought process that we would need to go through when thinking about a manifesto.

The content for this week did seem to ramp up quite a bit. Firstly there was the weekly video presented by our tutor, Sophie Nicholls. This was really an introduction to the manifesto topic and an explanation about the various sources we could use to view other manifestos. Ironically, we saw a simple manifesto with regards to writing which was simply ‘let go’. Whilst I could relate to this, the idea of having to write a 2,000 word one for an assignment felt a bit daunting. There was also a further video present by guest tutor, Jim Poyner, who had introduced us to his photography and his style of ‘roaming’ in a previous week.

The writing exercises were quite simple but we easily identifiable as being aimed at developing a manifesto. They were all prompts that we were expected to finish, such as ‘I believe..’, ‘I want…’, and ‘writing can…‘. There were also some more thought-provoking prompts, such as ‘what would you have written on your epitaph?’ and ‘If your manifesto had a voice, how would it speak?’.

Supporting materials were mainly website links to various manifestos but there were also a few relating to the Ars Poetica which is poem written by Horace in 19BC that advises us on the art of writing – very similar to how our manifesto could work.

My short story, Steal in the Night, didn’t make it into the workshop critique this week as there were already some works presented by others. Guess I’ll just have to wait for my turn.

Term 1, Week 5: MA Creative Writing Summary

Week 5 dealt with dramatic writing; that is understanding the concept of ‘character’ in dramatic writing and also to understand what it means to be characters ourselves.

The keywords for this week included (being a) character, motivation, complexity and subtext. Building on these, the themes for the week related to understanding the ways in which we are all characters, how we write with (and for) actors and also paradoxes where a character can seemingly have two conflicting traits.

A video presented by a guest tutor, Dr Paul Elsam, summarised dramatic writing really well. He stated that we often write privately for ourselves and we do have control over that but, with dramatic writing, you have to write with an expectation that someone else will get hold of your work further on through the process. Due to this, Paul suggests that what he does is ‘incomplete writing’ as he purposely leaves gaps that can be used as interpretation for others. Furthermore, there is a suggestion that we should also think about how we can leave clues in our writing for others to use when they perform, or act out, our work. It can be a fine line between actors feeling as if they’ve not got anything to work with and feelingn like they’re being preached to from the page.

Another part of the presentation discussed the use of character profile sheets as a way to model / capture the details of each of our main characters. Having spent many school holidays in the 1980’s playing Dungeons & Dragons, I felt much more at ease with this type of work (although I found the part where I had to come up with a character sheet on myself somewhat difficult.)  I use Scrivener to write a lot of my stories and I do quite often use the character sheet templates in there.

The writing exercises were a variation on the character profile sheet work extended to include characters from our own stories. Moreover, we were asked to bring two new characters together and to write a conversation between them – I enjoyed this aspect of the week and thought it tied back to the previous couple of weeks quite well. The final exercise was to free-write in the voice of a character and try to come up with a ten minute dramatic monologue.

Supporting readings and excerpts for this week include the very informative ‘what I’m really thinking’ which is a very tongue-in-cheek view at what people in certain roles actually think about their colleagues / customers but were far too polite to actually say. I do like the one about the student adviser who finished with this wonderful set of statements, ‘If you’re polite to me, I may let you bring me your application five minutes after the office officially closed. If you’re not, I probably won’t. That is a life lesson that doesn’t come in the lecture hall. Please don’t treat administrative staff as if we are less clever than you. I have a PhD, too.

I sent in a short story called, Steal of the Night, for a workspace critique. It will be interesting to read what others in the writing group think next week.

Term 1, Week 4: MA Creative Writing Summary

Whilst Week 3 was all about writing as seeing, week 4 focused more on writing as hearing, basically it was about voice and dialogue. Keywords included voice, point of view, tone and truth.

The themes for this week were around how we should take more time out to listen, to hear what other people are saying, and to try and understand what gives people their own voice. There was also a section around transcribing which covered how we capture voice on a page and how to understand what to include and what can be left out. For me, this is a very interesting subject as I tend to struggle a lot with dialogue. For imagery I know that huge pages of description are often frowned upon (and that’s me coming from an Epic Fantasy reading background), however, dialogue is different – whilst a tree in a book often looks like a tree in real life, it’s not always the best idea to write dialogue as if it’s actually being spoken. I’ll put a separate post about this in the near future but, for now, just assume that this is something that I’ve always found difficult.

As I expected, I found the writing exercises fun, but difficult. Examples of this were trying to free-write in the voice of someone you know. It did state not to think too much about it but I couldn’t help but feel I was thinking too hard as an average of 10 words per minute flashed back at me from my monitor. A further example which I did find interesting was to listen in on conversations in busy places, such as a cafe or a bus and to ‘transcribe’ these conversations in a notebook. It is interesting to identify what bits you miss out, such as swearing and localised terms.

As part of the reading list, I read an excerpt of a book called Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley (interestingly, she shared the same birthday as me!) and I found it really inspiring, especially at how Grace’s voice came through from the page. Each time I read it I felt as if I was in a chair whilst she talked to me. I know it would have gone through various phases of edits and re-writes but it still came across so natural.

I’d written a few things for the workspace forums at this point but as it was new (and there was a rush from everyone to submit some work) I chose to hold off mine for this week.

Term 1, Week 3: MA Creative Writing Summary

Week3 focused on writing with a view to seeing rather than just writing from our imagination.  Our keywords for this week were really-looking, image-making, describing and roaming.

The themes for this week were based around us, as writers, choosing to slow things down and to spend more time just watching the world go by in whatever way we wished. I personally spent more time out walking the dog and turned off the Ipod.  The idea here being that there is inspiration all around us for our writing, not only for the ideas but the actual depth of our writing and it can come from just spending time taking everything in.

One of the videos introduced us to a photographer from the university called Jim Poyner.  In the video Jim described a technique that he calls ‘roaming’.  This technique is simply Jim taking his camera out at night and taking picures of anything that takes his fancy (within reason).  There is no planning or pretext with this process, it’s simply Jim and his camera.  What is interesting here is the sheer wonderful images that he’s been able to take that are able to inspire almost anyone to come up with an idea for a short story, or an image that could be weaved into one.  Examples here would be an old wooden door that was part of a crumbling wall, or a picture of a child’s rope-swing taken at night in all its stillness.

The writing exercises for this week comprised of doing our own roaming as per Jim Poyner’s suggestion and also something called ‘Skyspace’.  This is an exercise where you choose a window through which you can see the sky and then spend a few days looking through it and write about what changes you see. I chose one of my conservatory windows and it was interesting to look back after a few days and see just how many things I noted, especially when I tend to think of that as a static view most of the time. It rained during that time and the way it hit the puddles reminded me of how Virginia Woolf described the rain on a pond in her diary, ‘The pond is covered with little white thorns; springing up and down: the pond is bristling with leaping white thorns, like the thorns on a small porcupine.’

An addition to this week was the introduction of the workspace forum. This is a forum where the tutor asks for writing submissions and then we critique it as a group.  It’s a great way to see not only what people think of your work but also what other people are writing about.  I do have concerns that there seem to be few fantasy/sci-fi writers on my course as many of the submissions are poetry or more contemporary writing but it is interesting to read nevertheless.

A thought about ritual

As one of my first readings in my course, I read a great text about how ritualistic you need to be if you want to succeed – not just for writing, for everything. The piece was written by a dancer who talked about how a visit to the gym every day was something that needed to be done. It wasn’t the actual visiting the gym that was the ritual however, it was the calling of the taxi each morning. It was this particular act that set the ritual moving.

I read the piece and it made me think of myself just a few years back. For the past decade, I’ve been running both inside a gym and outside along the streets. I wouldn’t say that I’m an addict (nor would anyone who saw me trying to squeeze into size 34″ jeans) however, it did remind me of a conversation that I had with my wife a couple of years back.

“Your going to the gym again?” she asked me one time as I was almost out of the door. “That’s the third time this week and it’s only Thursday.”

“Really?” I asked, completely unaware of the fact.

You see, I was visiting the gym so often that it just became second nature to me. I used to wonder if I would go to the gym after work, or if I would go on a certain day. But, after a while, I’d just fallen into a state of consciousness where I didn’t even think about whether I should be going anymore, I just went.

Moving back to the text that I’d read, I can’t help but feel that the author was trying to put in practice a number of steps that you should follow until the point that they become second nature to you. If you can somehow place yourself squarely in such a ritual, then I would think you’d no longer even think about whether you’d have time to write, or not – you’d just do it.

Obviously, you’ll still hit issues with word count and the internal editor (I know I still struggled with times and speed when I visited the gym) but at least you’ll be in the thick of it as opposed to doing something else and just thinking about it.