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

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?

Friday, 9 August 2013

Research ....

This last few weeks I have mostly been distracted from writing meandering in magical Mexico.
We had an amazing two weeks. It mostly involved making the most of the 'exclusive' all-inclusive food and drink at the resort and trying to look vaguely confident in public wearing less clothes than I usually wear for bed.
In truth my self-conscious bikini wearing was soon forgotten on two counts:
1 - very few people look anything like bikini models and the beach is a beautiful place to celebrate and wonder at the human form in ALL its shapes, sizes and guises.
2 - sunglasses are the perfect outfit for people watching.
I very quickly became too absorbed in my writerly research (general nosiness) too give a second thought to my lumps, bumps and sags.
Stressed young parents, grappling with toddlers, remembering relaxing holidays. Teenagers full of hormomes, egos and hopes of attracting the gaze of other teenagers whilst avoiding the attention of 'embarrassing' parents. Couples who, not unlike myself and MrT, have managed to shed all responsibilities for a couple of weeks to recapture a sense of each others and themselves.

With so few props to project and protect them people more easily expose themselves (literally sometimes but thankfully not too often!) but the constant ebbing and flowing of the ocean, the generous sun scattering crystals on the sea's surface, the white waves from the blue depths overwhelms human insecurities, puts us in our place. We are small, insignificant. Each grain of sand holds a millions memories but is brushed aside to make way for the present. I think I have never more fully understood the idea of living in the moment and observing and recording the moment in my notebook. I also came to realise the power of place (I know! But I'm new to this writing thing, and slow to learn!) I realised, really realised the importance of setting on character and narrative. I was really able to observe and reflect on the impact setting has on how people relate to each other and themselves.

I read books, drove MrT nuts with my incessant narration of life as I imagined it evolving before my eyes, sampled many cocktails (piƱa colada is still my favourite refreshing afternoon treat, margarita for pre-dinner indulgence), I made LOTS of notes - still unable to adequately find a way to capture the magic of the sea in my clumsy prose but I tried every single day. And every single day I noticed something different about it, as well as building narratives about the lives being lived on the shore.
There are LOTS of notes, I'm not sure what I will do with them all but I am sure that the trip did allow me time to develop as a writer. I've shared this reflection with MrT, how great an opportunity the holiday presented for me to hone my skills of observation, my writerly eye, in the hopes of more and frequent 'opportunities' but I also realise I need to find ways of capturing that at home. I need to observe my tree view as carefully as I did my sea view.
I live in hope of more 'research' trips though!


Sunday, 9 June 2013

One word in front of another.

This last few weeks I have mostly been distracted from writing by reading...

 

Reading great writing and reading great writers ON writing. This is all perfectly reasonable, of course. An aspiring writer can do a lot worse than reading! And I've also been making notes, playing around with plots and characters, planning, drafting fragments of ideas 'to be continued ... ' Sometimes I've even been doing some continuing, joining some of the fragments together.

 

I am nothing if not thorough in my creative exploration!

 

The sticking point, the thing I am not doing, is writing stories - something of a significant limiting factor in my fiction writing ambitions.

 

On dark days I wonder if I'm not just messing *here*. I understand the the theory. I know that there is no one process, that every writer has to find their own and I've gathered LOTS of information on how to go about doing it but if, when push comes to pen on paper I can't string words together in something more than random notes, maybe I'm not cut out for this. Maybe I should just crack on with something more useful - there's lots of gardening to hide in at the moment! Then I remember I'm signed up to study an MA in creative writing starting in September and how, following the lengthy conversation that constituted my interview the sharp professor declared I needed to work on finishing things! He advised me to work on some of my short story ideas and FINISH them.

 

This man worries me; he KNOWS!!!

 

In the months since the interview I've done anything but that! However I now declare I am ready to start. I have to be, I have approximately 12 weeks before I turn up on his course.

 

The deal then? The deal I've made with myself (and shared with MrT whose patience and support for my artistic meddling knows no bounds) is to sit and write one word in front of another for 40 minutes each day - and these words MUST be something like a narrative; moving through a story from beginning to end in some semblance of order that a reader might at least be able to make sense of, if not fully enjoy!

 

I will report back on my progress and hope you're not just reading this to avoid writing your own story!

Monday, 1 April 2013

magic mixing

This last few weeks I have mostly been distracted from writing thinking about cake ... 
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I like cake, a lot, but because I am very strong willed, for the duration of my grocery shop at least, we do not have cake in the house unless I make it ... and so reader I bake. My love of baking is fuelled only by my love of eating. Although I do like the fact that people tend to be impressed with my efforts - I am in NO WAY a fancy baker but what doesn't look/taste good covered in chocolate or custard or BOTH? 


Flour + Sugar + Fat + Eggs = MAGIC!

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Earlier this week whilst carefully combining ingredients - (ok, after chucking it all in the mixer and pressing 'pulse') I got to thinking how baking is a bit like writing. If you've been here before, you will know only too well how much time I spend thinking about (if not actually in the act of) writing. Having been working at the writing for a few years now, I think I've identified three key aspects of my learning as a writer:


  1. studying the craft of writing - learning from writers talking about their writing and (usually very generously) sharing their learning about writing
  2. reading - LOTS and across a VAST range of texts ... there is ALWAYS something to learn from ANY kind of writing
  3. writing myself - every day, often making very little sense but working on building my writing stamina and confidence about putting one word in front of another and hoping to one day get them into some kind of order. 

I juggle with these three aspects daily in my attempt to build my writing skills and establish a foundation onto which I can build my ideas.

Studying the craft of other writers, learning from their reflections and lessons on writing is a bit like adding flour to the mixing bowl - it needs careful selection and sifting. There are lots of different kinds of writers out there with lots of different things that work for them but only certain kinds will work for me in my mix. I have made cakes without flour, it is possible but tricky and less stable than other mixes.

photo.JPGReading LOTS is sweet like sugar. Sometimes thick, heavy molasses is just what's needed; sometimes a light dusting of fine icing sugar but all have their place and knowing what to apply when ensures a tasty experience. I did actually make a cake once without sugar (in ERROR) and although the end result looked like cake it was empty and lacking in flavour.

Writing myself - every day; this is the 'fat' of it! Doing so is helping me build consistency into my writing, without this 'fat' I really am just dreaming (and hungry). What is particularly comforting to know, in cake making as well as in writing, is that the fat needn't be the posh stuff. Basic cake recipes benefit from good old stork margarine - I have used expensive butter, just as I have tried to litter my daily writing with 'clever' literary tricks but the truth is, the basic stuff works best in terms of establishing consistency. 

Anyone reading this with even a rudimentary knowledge of either science or baking will know we are missing the eggs - how are we going to get THAT into the metaphor MrsT? Well, as I've said on many occasions, I think these things through thoroughly. The eggs are what really bring the magic to the bake. 

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I think the eggs are me and my imagination. They are tightly packaged and need to be cracked into but, once the protective shell is broken, they have the power to transform. They are a natural ingredient and can vary in size and quality. Did you know that the best victoria sponge is achieved by weighing the eggs first and then adapting all other ingredients to fit that? try it! 

The addition of eggs transforms the other ingredients into something special, something particular to the mix, where the cake (with some 'cooking') becomes more than the sum of its parts. 

Happy magic mixing!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Wilful wonder ...

This last few weeks I have mostly been distracted from writing with wondering ...

I wonder why the snowdrops I'm seeing through the window are not of the variety I would most like to see at this time of year. I wonder just how much longer I am going to kid myself that I can be fit for summer if I just follow the basic eat less; exercise more 'rules' - like that's REALLY ever going to happen. Mostly I wonder if my writerly ambitions are merely an excuse to legitimately sit comfortably reading and dreaming and scribbling the odd few words in no particular order.

Don't get me wrong, I am making progress. I am filling ever more pages with ever more words in ever more colourful ways - it's an output, of sorts! Tiny grains of ideas laid down daily and cocooned in the pages of my notebook like the tiny eggs of a butterfly camouflaged amongst leaves.

I read recently that butterfly eggs can lay dormant for up to a year before emerging into larvae (I read that some larvae form 'mutual associations with ants' - the larvae communicate with the ants using vibrations. How do people KNOW this?). Catapillars mature through a series of stages called instars where the outer tougher layers of skin crack and shed to expose a softer layer beneath. Each of these instars getting closer to the true picture of the butterfly.

So I lay the eggs of my ideas in my notebook. I revisit them to explore them further, scrutinise them; scratch off the surface crust, excavate a little further towards maturity? Looking to see if these ideas might evolve into stories with wings that can fly?

It might happen, it certainly won't happen if I don't at least try, and if it doesn't? Well at least I'm comfortable!

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Write NOW!

This past couple of weeks, I have mainly been distracted from writing scowling at swirling snow shenanigans. 

Not, of course, that my disapproval makes any difference. I do realise that; I just can't quite help myself. There are moments when I can appreciate the wonder that is our weather and respect the fact of IT taking charge but mostly I get frustrated that it gets in the way of plans I've made. 

One plan I have stuck to, however, is my newly-established daily writing routine following the advice from Dorothea Brande's book which I mentioned in my previous post. Reader, it works! Writing everyday, FIRST THING everyday has improved my writing stamina and, I am pleased to report, I am finding that I am not only able to write more but what I am writing is occasionally more interesting too.

Brande's advice is that it is absolutely critical for the aspiring writer to invest in themselves and how they feel about writing and not just invest time in studying the technicalities of the craft of writing. In fact, too much attention to the technicalities of the craft of writing can, in the early stages, prohibit the capacity of the writer to write anything. (VERY) Basically, the technicalities of the craft of writing are developed in our 'conscious writing brain' - this is where stories are crafted BUT we need to nurture our 'unconscious brain' which is where the stories start. If we jump too quickly into the conscious crafting we allow our self-editor to dominate too quickly and, all too often, before our unconscious creative brain has even had the chance to get-going. 

Have you ever had an idea for a story that was absolutely BRILLIANT in your head but completely impossible to write down? I've been struggling with this for the past few years! It's a clear sign that you need to clear space for your creative unconscious to become liberated. Writing every morning is the very starting point; liberating the unconscious before the conscious (and often hyper-critical) wakes up. 

The morning writing routine: the gateway to creative success?
Brande says that whilst you're establishing this early morning writing routine, you shouldn't read over what's been written. I have had a brief scan back at mine. Much of it is absolute rubbish! Less interesting to read than a timetable suspended due to adverse weather conditions, sadder than a pair of theatre tickets doomed to be unused because you can't get off your drive (have I mentioned my frustrations with snow?!). However, I do know that I am able to write more during these 30 minute sessions and I also know that it has an impact on how I feel about myself for the rest of the day. 

Starting my day writing reminds me that writing is what I want to do. In doing the morning write, it feels like my unconscious creative brain gains some confidence and this confidence continues throughout the day where my newly liberated unconscious feels free to heckle out all kinds of ideas - not all of them completely crazy and/or libellous.

The next step, following Brande's instruction (and why wouldn't you?) is to train yourself to write at a given moment. The plan goes like this:
  • continue with the daily morning writing
  • at the end of the morning session (after a pat on the back for sticking to it and recognising how much better you're getting!) review your plans for the coming day
  • identify a SPECIFIC time that day when you WILL sit down for another 20-30 minutes and write
  • importantly, this daily 'scheduled write' should be at different times on different days
  • the aim is to train yourself to be able to write NOW
  • Brande stresses how STRICT you have to be with this 
  • No excuses, once you've promised yourself it's what you are going to do you need to get on and DO IT!
I'm going to be giving this a shot over the next couple of weeks and whatever the weather I will let you know how I get on. 

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Writing? Just Do It EVERY Morning.

This past couple of weeks, I have mainly been distracted from writing by my reading ABOUT writing.

If you are already an expert writer then you really need go no further here, except perhaps to gloat (although in my experience 'expert' writers are a very kind and generous bunch; and liberal with their enthusiasm and encouragement for the novice). This is just me exploring the core of getting-going-with writing and some advice I've come across recently that I think will help me move on in my endeaendeavour. If you are teetering anywhere near the precipice of starting to think about yourself as a writer then you may find the following useful.

Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande is a text oft mentioned in meanderings on creative writings. First published in 1934, Brande urges would-be writers to write in the morning, every morning and before anything else. I'm thinking Ms Brande didn't have cats because I have peace to do absolutely nothing upon waking until mine have been fed but, following this feline life saving task, this is an exercise I used previously which really worked. Within a week of doing this everyday, writing before anything (except feeding cats), I find my writing picks up. I become able to write more in the same amount of time and I more quickly scroll beyond the dull dribbles of the previous day into something with a little more potential; a glimmer of imagination emerges and makes me more eager to engage further in the exercise.

Just as the repetitions of star jumps make footballers fitter for footballing; doing writing makes writers better at writing. For Brande, the morning writing exercise is all about cultivating a writer's temperament. Contrary to what can be summised from the profiles of many of my Twitter writing friends, this does not have anything to do with how many cups of coffee you drink and at what point in the day it is appropriate to drink wine. The writer's temperament of which Brande speaks is one that is more 'versatile, sympathetic and studious' than others. Genius, she assures us, 'can be taught'.

This feeds seamlessly into our desire to read about writing and study the craft of writing, a number of texts on which I have already found very useful but, Brande warns, attention to excavating our inner writer from this 'crafting' perspective will do little unless we also take time to develop our personality as a writer.

The biggest threat to the emergent writer is not the technicalities of writing but in having the confidence to actually write at all. The morning writing exercise helps us to stumble through all the demons and doubts to a place where we feel safe to have a go.

Try it:

- Write for 20 minutes every morning.
- Write before you do ANYTHING if at all possible and certainly write before reading or talking to anyone - you are trying to catch yourself writing before you inner critic wakes up!
- Keep writing for the FULL 20 minutes. DO NOT STOP, Ms Brande is VERY strict about this. Write ANYTHING but keep writing.
- Don't read back what you have written - you're building fluency and stamina as a writer not penning the next prize winner.
- Do notice how, after even a week or so, you are able to write more in this time.

I've heard/read of this so often in the past few years and having tried it, I know it works. I'm trying it again (I can't believe I ever stopped!) and this time I've bought the book! If there was a t-shirt I'd buy that too. Dorothea Brande's original text is an absolute joy, a no-nonsense read which has the potential to push your productivity as a writer ... maybe even as far as publishing.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Resolve to evolve?

This past few weeks I have mostly been distracted from writing by the chaos that is the Christmas holidays. Wonderful though this has been I find myself, like many, desperate to get back to some sort of normal. 'Normal'? I wonder! Only a couple of days ago, in the 'chrimbo-limbo' (as Sarah Cox referred to it on Radio 2), the journey through the no-mans-land from Christmas Day to New Year's Eve 'normal' was not the intention. The after glow of Santa's visit, generous quantities of cheese and chocolate, and liberal helpings of Port (other alcoholic beverages were available ... and consumed *ahem*) I was imagining 2013 as anything but normal. 


I imagined 2013 as a place in which personal failings were resolved into a fresh new me! A place of less calorie consumption, more exercise and less, FAR less procrastination. Alcohol infused enthusiasm had me believing in a world where I could be positively charged to succeed. Now? Now I'm caressing memories of time well spent with people I love and remembering that fat is a lot easier to add on than take off.


"Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, it is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy that we can scarcely mark their progress." Charles Dickens

'Normal' 16 going on 17! 


Normal? It's a myth isn't it? This was never more obvious to me than when I had my first, and only, child. One of the clearest memories I have of the desperately difficult first few months of motherhood is of my own mum trying to reassure me that things would, in time, 'get back to normal'. 'Normal?' Reader, I screeched. 'There is NO normal. THIS is as NORMAL as it gets from here on in.' 


I am probably just about sober enough now to realise that what I am hankering for is the gentle 'succession of changes' that move me from where I am to where I want to be with enough space to reflect on the past and embrace the present.


Reflecting on the past, I am pleased to have made the 'grand' decision to embark on a part time MA in creative writing before the chaos of the holidays took over. I embraced all the Christmas chaos had to offer by carefully placing my WIP to one side for the duration. I am happy that today marks the first day of the rest of my writerly life as I redraft part of the WIP into my 5000 word submission to accompany my application for the MA.
It's life 'Jim' but never quite as we think we know it. 


"LIFE: Love, Intelligence, Fun, Evolution in that order." -Vanna Bonta


Happy 2013 days to you and yours, in whatever form that might take.