Sunday, 2 February 2014

Mandatory Application

Greetings patient reader. I can assure you this past few weeks I have most definitely not been distracted from writing. The Creative Writing MA is working its magic demanding my focus on my writing, thus Mandatory Application (see what I did there?!).

Stephen Covey sums it up I think, and since spotting this (I'm always on the look out for an apt photo-quote) I've held it in my mind; used it to help me stay on track.

I think there are four different aspects to keeping focused on my writing - as well as NOT being distracted by other things:

1 - Reading as a Writer
This is something we get a lot of direction on during the MA. It's the BEST bit really. Obviously we writers LOVE reading, right! My favourite *work* right here. I still get to read LOTS, and widely.
Perhaps the downside is, the more I read the more I realise HOW MUCH there is TO read!
In order to get the most out of the MA study, my tutor advised me to focus on short fiction - giving me more opportunities to experiment. Also giving me lots of opportunities to discover works by my favourite writers that I haven't seen before because, before starting the course, I wasn't a big short fan.

2 - Reading to Inspire Writing
This covers a range of activities: reading my monthly subscription to Writing Magazine; reading blogs/books/posts about writing; reading books about writers; reading (and responding to) writing as a craft.
It's also about engaging with writers about their writing. The MA workshops mean I get to read and comment on the work of my fellow students and I'm more confident in reading the work of writer friends and giving honest feedback (and very grateful to get theirs on mine).

3 - Writing to Inspire Writing
I write everyday. Seriously, I STILL do this, I mentioned it to you just over a year ago here  and it absolutely works. I make notes, I play around with ideas. Sometimes I just make lists but whatever I am doing, I am WRITING and it works!

I know, talk about stating the obvious but I've had to draw this out as an aspect all of its own to stop myself doing anything but. This, for me is about actually writing the stories, getting them from ideas, through plans, to actual narratives. Getting better at this aspect has been about developing confidence. The MA has really pushed my hand in this - it requires the Mandatory Application of aspects 1 to 3 to make this work but it also takes a leap of faith in ourselves, and support from others.
Of course, along with confidence it takes motivation which is why I'm carrying this photo-quote around with me!

Of course there are no guarantees whatever we do ... but I'm thoroughly enjoying the *training*. 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Battling Butterfly Brain

Greetings dear reader, if you've been here before you will know that my posts mostly concern discussions about the things that distract me from writing. Today I am happy to report that over the past few weeks I have not been distracted from writing; I've been utterly consumed by it.

Studying on the MA has really galvanised my thinking about myself as a writer and is keeping me VERY busy writing. The problem is THERE IS SO MUCH TO DO ALL OF A SUDDEN and I am so giddy about all of it, I struggle to focus on one thing without being distracted by all the other things.
We have a three hour session one evening a week. I spend at least another three hours going over my session notes and following up the notes I've made to myself during the session on points where I need further clarification or additional information. This worked out ok in the first few weeks but now we're getting down to serious business and the first assignment is due mid December - I have A LOT of notes for this but I'm not sure I have much of a clue on how to get from notes to something that looks anything like an academic essay.
This is where my butterfly brain kicks in.
There are three other assignments to complete for mid January, and there are regular workshops for which we each submit a piece for discussion. I am awash with legitimate busy writerly things to do and I flit and flirt from one to another, taking the best bits of what's there before moving onto the next.
What's that you say? Procrastination? How very dare you! I'm writing, I'm so busy writing, and thinking and writing about writing I'm NOT being distracted by other things - check out my recent activity on Twitter if you don't believe me! Talk to my neglected family and friends ... Give them my regards!
Sorry? A different kind of procrastination you say? Well ... Yes! *guilty as charged*
I have a strategy though, I'm treating each of the assignments as a 'project', including each of the MANY half finished potential workshop pieces. Obviously I've bought new folders! Each project is in its own folder and BEFORE I leave anything for something new (or to get on with my 'real' world stuff, which I APPARENTLY still have to do) I write myself a note of what I've done and what I need to do next. It's kind of working...
I have also had a VERY exciting *win* - I finally FINISHED a short story and I submitted it to my workshop group and I got GREAT feedback on it. This is THE FIRST PIECE OF ACTUAL WRITING I HAVE EVER FINISHED! It's also only the third time I've handed my writing over to be read (previous times were for York Festival and my MA application), I've even let some friends and family read it! This is a HUGE step for me, I know lots of you reading this will have LOTS more experience, and confidence, in your writing but for me, I feel like I've been through a metamorphosis ...

Thursday, 24 October 2013


Marginalia: notes in the margin.
Who knew this was a thing? I just thought I was a messy reader.
I suspect marginalia might be a 'marmite' activity? I have a vague memory of a Twitter discussion some time ago where Tweeps were either for or against but very clear in their convictions one way or the other. Of course, opinions are what we love about Twitter but I remember being a little taken aback by the level of *outrage* at my confession of how I *treat* books #WithNoRespect.
As a teacher I've worked with students who had to be coaxed gently into the the act of annotation. I would take in my own copies of texts to show how I had marked them up. Then, once I'd convinced them of the value of adding their own words to the sacred printed page, I would be sure to reminded they were marking (important aspects of) text not colouring it in. The availability of highlighters in the modern classroom have a lot to answer for. It's not always practical or cost effective to have students writing in books but I do think it adds something to the reading of a text, a conversation with the author, a souvenir of the thoughts you shared. Sticky notes are good - that way the reader can 'mark-up' the text they're studying but remove all the notes later to ensure the text can be passed on in good condition, and they can take the sticky notes home as a momento.
In other news I am struggling to balance writing my stories with studying for my CREATIVE WRITING MA. Ironic? I think it's just a case of balance and settling in. I also recognise that, for me, *study* can easily drift into the ultimate procrastination activity. I'm drawn to research in a BIG way, in my writing, my (real-life) work and any formal study I've ever undertaken. It's the finding-stuff-out and seeing-what-people-think that *gets* me. An extension of my pathological nosiness? That and the opportunity to colour-in other people's words!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Steep Learning Curve

The main source of my distraction this past couple of weeks has been about trying to appear vaguely intelligent as I get to know my Creative Writing MA group...
I think enthusiasm is good but, I think, there's a thin line between that and garrulous hyper-friendly which *can* be off putting so I am trying to be calm ... BUT I am SO excited to be a 'real' student studying on a 'real' campus, even if it is only for three hours one evening a week :@
Mostly we have been studying the research methods of creative writers. The Professor's main area of interest is Poetics which is (VERY basically) what writers write about writing. We have explored two key areas of research for writing: content and form. Although the two are intertwined, for the purposes of our learning we've been urged to think about them separately. My main activity of research for content is (what I like to call) 'legitimate' snooping. It's research, and therefore *technically* science which makes it legitimate? Fun anyway! Research for form, which is really what concerns our studies, is about all the formal decisions we make about our writing - whether we're going to write a poem or a short story or a novel, point of view, narrative structure. Ultimately these formal choices will, I think, determine how we shape the content on the page.
It's making my head hurt a little bit but I read an article about Melvin Brag writing a novel based on his mum's life and he talked about the only way he felt he could get to the truth was through fiction; basically discussing the formal decisions he made. This helped me to contextualise some of the more theoretical stuff we've been reading. There's an assignment on this and I already have some ideas. Interestingly the tutor reminded us it's 'just an assignment', publication is seen as much more important. This, in the context of a former student having just secured a SIX figure deal, is very encouraging!
Importantly, I feel comfortable in th group. There's eight of us and a good mix of males/females, young/older, with an eclectic mix of interests in terms of genre. All very positive ... Although I KNOW I'm going to be nervous when it comes to presenting pieces for workshop ;0

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Preparation is Everything

This past couple of weeks, the biggest distraction has been counting down to the start of my Creative Writing MA. I've been through a whole range of emotions from abject anxiety and self doubt to feeling I very well might burst with the excitement. This is a BIG step. Am I ready?

It's three years since I reduced to part time hours in my real-world job and, although I didn't know it at the time, that was the point at which I began my journey towards the MA. Being only part time in the real-world felt terrifying at first. But MrT was, as ever, fully supportive of how I might make this work for me. 'You've always said you'd like to write. You've always said the thing that stops you from writing is not having the time. Well you have the time now, make the most of it!' And reader, I have done absolutely that.

I have written almost everyday for the past three years. Sometimes just a sentence or two, sometimes pages of barely cohent drivel but I have done it (almost) everyday in the hopes of building some writerly stamina and because once I got over the initial 'this is strange' feeling, I actually really enjoy it.

I have read. As an adult, I have always read (though unlike lots of people who love the words on the page, I didn't read a lot as a child) but I have read more widely and with more of a conscious critical eye; reflecting not just on what's happening in a text but how the writer is making it so.

I've read more poetry too, at least one poem everyday - like a literary shot to shake the senses.

I have read lots about writing. I was amazed to discover how generous writers are, sharing their knowledge and understanding about their craft, generous with their encouragement and support. Joining Twitter as an aspiring writer is like joining a wonderful team of talented and friendly people who 'have' your self doubting back and know just how to push you forward.

Yes, the past three years have been a journey towards the entrance hall of the MA and with any luck, and a lot of hard work, the MA will be part of a bigger journey taking me from being a reader who writes to a writer who reads.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Signed and Sealed

Well I've only gone and done it - fully signed up for the Creative Writing MA. I even have an official photo ID card where I look just slightly less like a criminal than I do on my passport. The woman in charge of the photography asked me twice if I was 'happy with it?' - not as happy as I would be with a glass of wine; happier than I would be with thrush thank you.
I arrived early, as my mother taught me, which was fortunate because the campus sprawls and the instructions I'd been sent were vague. Having been to the university a couple of times before, I headed for the main reception. Ah but it was closed which actually seemed perfectly reasonable as I stood staring at the empty desk wondering what to do next. I had time for coffee and, I imagined, a few moments to let the day fall away and embrace my new student adventure but the coffee shop was shut too. In fact everything was pretty much shut. The university seemed to be holding its breath in anticipation of the salacious studious life to come.
The benefit of the detour was that I now know where the library is and eventually a kind, helpful woman gave me clear directions which she repeated slowly to allow me to process the various land marked turns I was to take. This in contrast to the man who looked kind but suggested any number of directions I might try if I were him which I clearly am not. I stumbled at the steps of the building I had been assured was the one I needed to be in. Reader, it was the sports centre. Panic!
Let's just be clear, I read and I write but I DO NOT *do* forms if I can possibly avoid it. Being married is useful in this respect because MrT is VERY good at forms but there are occasions where I absolutely have to do them myself and the course application was one such time. Stepping slowly up to the first floor where a track suited man had directed me I couldn't help wonder what on earth I might be signing up for. Does anybody REALLY read all the options on a form? Does ANYBODY really check back over a form to make sure they haven't inadvertently ticked PE instead of CW?
Much to my relief the Professor I'd met on interview was in the room labelled number 1 and pointed me in the general direction of the other three I had to visit. In each room I had to sign my name on various scraps of paper (more unread forms), agree that I understood that if I didn't pay my tuition fees I would be tortured and, they had clearly met people like me before, have my original form checked and authorised repeatedly.
I can't tell you how excited I felt on clearing the forth and final room (hopefully my descriptive writing capacity will improve during the course of study) and I almost skipped out into the corridor to see what we were all doing next. 'Oh ... that's it then ...' I felt a tiny bit robbed if I'm honest, not to mention thirsty - I never did manage to find any means of securing coffee.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Dreamy or Disciplined?

This past few days I have mostly been distracted from writing thinking about what kind of writer I am. This is procrastination of the highest order, of course, but MrT point blank refuses to let me return to the 'research' I was doing last week - see previous post!

The key question: Is your writing fuelled by dreams or discipline?

Do you meander with the muse or do you muscle your imagination into motion? And, more importantly (I'm learning here), what's best?
My best days are my 'writerly' days. I'm fortunate to (usually) be able to secure one of these a week. I absolutely LOVE these days. I get up early, sip coffee, wonder, imagine, scribble, read, write ... They are special days and I appreciate that I am VERY fortunate to have them but they are essential too. I would never have travelled the (relatively short) distance I have as a writer without them. They are the days when anything and nothing might happen. Usually something does. I'll read something which will inspire me to think differently about my writing, myself, the world. Occasionally I'll even write a small few words that mean something more than the nonsense that generally fills the pages of my notebook.
During my writerly days I have time to relax-into being a writer and banish all notion of more-important-things-I-should-be-doing. On writerly days, there is nothing more important than writing and it is only by carving out this time for myself that I have been able to begin to develop as a writer. It's only by having this extended time (I have mentioned before how slow I am) that I am able to meander imaginatively with my muse, mull over ideas; wonder, explore, play.
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Albert Einstein

On my recent holiday (did I mention I've been on holiday!) I had endless writerly-type days. Utter luxury! Endless days to meander with my muse and ... BUT life is not one long holiday (MrT is very insistent on this) and even with my regular writerly days assured, I need to be able to be more efficient, more productive, less meandering ... more methodical.
“Inspiration is the windfall from hard work and focus. Muses are too unreliable to keep on the payroll.” Helen Hanson
In the real world I function in lists. I feel comfortable in lists, I'm (slightly) less likely to get distracted with a list! I have lists for the week and lists for each day. I also have a long term 'must-do' list and even a long term 'would be good to do' list. And the absolutely best thing about having a list is ticking off completed items!
I once read that 'compulsive' list makers should keep completed lists. 'Don't throw them away.' You have to keep them so that when your to-do lists are getting out of hand and you feel a little bit overwhelmed by them, you also have evidence of everything you've achieved in the past. Over the course of a year my working diary trebles in size with all the post-it notes of lists I accumulate. It's a 'strategy' - it kind of works ... I get stuff done, mostly, and if something has been on any list for too long I can strike it out anyway - it can't be THAT important.
Through lists I discipline my dreamy, erratic mind and galvanise myself into action and the more I read about writers writing successfully I realise they do so more through discipline than dreams.
“If I ever saw my muse she would be an old woman with a tight bun and spectacles poking me in the middle of the back and growling, "Wake up and write the book!” Kerry Greenwood
Clearly, rather than fighting to keep my writerly world and my 'real world' apart, I need to let them spill over into each other. I need to take the strategies and routines that galvanise me into action in the real world and utilise them in my writerly world. Maybe even occasionally allow myself to meander in the real world too?