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, 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.

 

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 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.

Term 1, Week 1: MA Creative Writing Summary

Week 1 was all about getting started and the key words for this week were very much aligned to the topic; being able to let go, uncertainty and being able to make mistakes.

The underlying themes built on the keywords by exploring how I can let go of the idea, or view, of the writer that I think I should be, and rewrite this into a vision of what kind of writer I can be.  This is made easier by addressing those thoughts about the kind of writing that I think I should do and just get used to pure writing without editing, crafting or analysing.  This brings in the idea of the ‘flow’ which is how we feel when the words just come through us and onto the paper, something that the writing exercises for this week enabled me to experience. This idea of flow was extended through a reading from “Creativity: the psychology of discovery and invention”. The final theme was that of rituals, or habits, that I should try out to see what works and what doesn’t when it comes down to my time for writing.

The writing exercises were based around the idea that I should learn to write without prejudice, and by that I mean without any external factors influencing it. This is the idea of ‘flow’ and I’m sure most people know that feeling when they’re in the ‘flow’ and all the words just keep coming.  There was an exercise on freewriting where you just write anything without pausing, crossing out or deleting and also an extension to that called ‘timed’ writing which was very similar although you set your freewriting against a timer.  Another exercise was to focus on a particular object and write whatever you want about it.

Like Doctor Who, I’m now able to travel back in time to a post back in October when I put up my first free-writing exercise here and here.

Each of these exercises, when done correctly, just got me used to putting something on the page (which is often the most difficult thing for some writers). Of course I was able to share my output in a discussion forum which not only gave me an insight into what the rest of the workgroup had done, but it also provided me with some reaction to my own writing.  Ironically, I found it quite difficult to present comments on other people’s writing when it had purposely been written without any real though behind it.

What I found more interesting about this week was the idea of ritual; being able to do something that often that is becomes a habit and something that you then continue to do almost without thought. I’ve always found it difficult to just sit down and write and, being a procrastinator, I’m an expert at finding something else to do.  If my desk is untidy, I’ll tidy it first and if it’s already tidy, I’ll just check some emails / websites etc.  What this week taught me, through some readings from a book called, “The Creative Habit; learn it and use it for life; a practical guide” was that there is never really a perfect time to do anything.  All I can do is work toward something as close to perfect and then just get on with it.  The example given was a dancer who had to get up early to go to the gym every morning.  Interestingly, it wasn’t working in the gym that was the habit, but the actual process of calling the taxi to get to the gym.  The author suggested that the action of ringing the taxi was the point of no return and, by doing that, they knew they’d have to go to the gym anyway.

This instilled in me the desire to set a habit of my own that I could choose to initiate or not; the only rule was that whenever I did initiate it, I’d stick to it. So, I now have a candle and a lamp on my desk.  If I’m in the dark, I put the lamp on and if I want the room to smell like ‘Hansel’s and Gretel’s House’ I’ll light the candle.  But, when I’m serious about writing, I light the candle AND put the lamp on.  When I do this all non-writing tasks get put on hold; no TV, no music, no Youtube and no Internet. This becomes my writing time and anything I do during this period has to be writing-related.

Although this summary is from a period in time from October, my ritual has continued to work upto the present day. I’ve mostly used the ritual to drive my writing but I have, on occasion, found myself sitting down to write without the candle or the lamp which can only be considered a good thing.

Abandoned Buildings

I’ve always found abandoned places fascination, be it London’s Tube stations, Ghost towns, and even fairgrounds. Part of me wants to go and visit them and part of me wants to stay away from them, especially at night.

The latest collection I’ve come across is abandoned buildings in the Eastern Bloc. If you’re ever stuck for a location of a dark-fantasy or horror story, you cannot fail but be inspired by some of these images. Personally, I love the mining machine, it wouldn’t look out of place in a steampunk novel would it?  Also that doctors surgery is the place of nightmares for someone with a good imagination.

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.

Back from holiday with a bump.

Back from holiday – had a great time and really enjoyed the rest and not having to do much of anything.

This morning, I was only about half an hour into my normal working day when I felt like I needed another holiday.  I really need to finish my novel and hope it’s a best-seller 🙂  Either that, or I could win the Euromillions lottery.

Ironically, looking forward to the break so I could get some more writing done, the biggest complaint I had was that I didn’t do as much writing as I thought I would; the lure of the sun and cider made me feel like George R R Martin in front of an NFL game. I’d even bought a great new notebook in Paperchase in the airport.

Still, I did pickup a great book to read in the ship’s library (which by the way, P&O Cruises have a very good stock of books) – Half a King by Joe Abercrombie. It was a hardback that had never been read (not a slight on the book, I think it had only just been purchased) and I felt almost guilty for reading it around suntan lotion and glasses of water.

Okay, so I must admit in my panic at seeing so many books in one place on a ship, I fell into alphabetic mode and picked up the first fantasy book I hadn’t read. Even though I’ve never read a Joe Abercrombie book, I’ve always felt close to him as an author as he’s around my age and grew up in Lancaster which is just twenty minutes drive from where I live. Part of me is always happy in the idea that if I told an author where I lived, they’d say, “Oh yes, I know where that is.”

Moving back to the novel though. What a book! I don’t usually spend too much time reading the blurb on the covers, but when I did I wholeheartedly agreed with the fact that it was a can’t-put-down book. I devoured the adventures of the unfortunate Prince Yarvi and followed him through his bitter struggle for redemption. I do have to admit that there were some rather large comparisons with a certain other young prince in Game of Thrones, but it didn’t really detract from the story. If you haven’t read this book, I would definitely recommend it.

In fact the ONLY negative I had was that I read it that quickly, I didn’t have time to choose another book and finish it before the ship docked for home. Joe can be happy that I returned it back to the library in almost pristine condition for the next lucky reader to pick up.

NB: Note to self (again), tablets are no good for reading books in the sun..

Anyway, got some great images on the camera that gave me some good ideas for a few flash fiction posts so they should be available throughout this week.