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Archive for the category “Writing”

Writing success!

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Unlike previous years, in 2021, I regularly wrote posts for this blog. In fact, the insights were interesting.

I wrote 161 posts with a total count of 71,490 words, and an average post length of 444 words. This means I sat down 161 times and wrote, so a little less than every other day, and yet it hasn’t felt like a chore and the words have accumulated with ease.

And 71,415 words is the length of a short novel.

This means that in 2022 I could sit down every other day and write between 400-450 words and produce a short novel by this time next year!

Food for thought.

Haiku

A guttering flame,

Sudden spark of peach-white light –

Then silent darkness.

Five things I learnt from George Saunders

I recently bought A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders and so when I saw he was appearing at the Cambridge Literary Festival, I purchased a ticket. Here are five things I learnt.

One: He had many varied jobs before obtaining an MA in Creative Writing and becoming a professor at Syracuse University. Out of 600-700 applicants, only six are awarded places on his course. His novel Lincoln in the Bardo won the Booker Prize in 2017.

Two: He believes that every writer has to accept that they’re not as great as they aspire to be, which I find simultaneously depressing and encouraging. You can make mistakes in your writing today but come back to it tomorrow, and need to have faith in your ability to revise and rewrite.

Three: The workings of the mind operate in the same way as a novelist: it drafts, edits and revises. This is encouraging that it suggests that writing is not some different, magical process that needs to be learnt, but something that we automatically do every day.

Four: It is a fallacy that every writer sets out with an intention because, as you write, the story provides surprising moments. Writing can be a linear process with a series of micro-decisions along the way. This suggests that he is yet another successful writer who does not intricately plan his work in advance. I would disagree that writers do not have an intention in mind at the outset; however, I suspect that it is highly like that their finished work takes a form or course that they did not originally intend.

Five: Reading and writing aren’t separate activities but a communication between two different minds. I agree wholeheartedly with this; I believe reading and writing are two sides of the same coin.

George Saunders is an interesting person to listen to, who speaks with honesty about the reading and writing process.

London Writers’ Salon writers’ hour: it’s crazy but it works

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Last year, during the first lockdown, I discovered the London Writers’ Salon Writers’ Hour. I did it once, then promptly forgot about it. Recently it was mentioned in a New York Times’ article and I revisited it. I’ve now been taking part for a month. What is it?

The Writers’ Hour is what it says: an hour that you spend writing. There are four Zoom sessions a day from Monday to Friday to cover various world time zones. I’ve been attending the Wednesday morning 8 o’clock London session (and occasionally an additional session). You log in, along with approximately 250 other writers, introduce yourself in the chat and say what you’re planning on doing during the session, hear an inspirational reading suggested by one of the attendees, and then settle down to write for 50 minutes. Basically, you are sitting at home (or wherever you are) on your own and writing – which you could do without logging into the session – except would you? When the time is up, you feedback via chat on what you have accomplished, a couple of attendees are invited to speak briefly about what they are working on, and the session closes.

Basically, you are sitting at home (or wherever you are) on your own and writing. As you could do this without logging into the session, I initially couldn’t see the point – except after four weeks I have almost finished the first draft of a short story and I know for sure that without having attended these sessions, this short story would not exist.

The range of writing is amazing; in fact, I hadn’t ever considered how many types of writing people do. But anybody who has something they need to put down on paper or screen obviously finds these focused sessions extremely helpful in getting the job done. They write their morning pages, work emails, a scene in their novel, a business proposal, a poem, a script, an outline, an essay, an MA dissertation, college notes, a to-do list, and many, many more amazing ideas.

On Wednesdays, there is the added bonus of staying online for a further 20 minutes or so and mingling with other writers in breakout rooms before returning to the main room where people comment in the chat about the people they were talking to and one or two are invited to speak to the group about their experience of the ‘mingle’. Each week I’ve planned on remaining online for this, and each week I’ve chickened out: how can an ‘imposter’ writer like me mix with all these people who have great ideas and know exactly what they’re doing? And each week I’ve been angry at myself for hitting the ‘leave meeting’ key before I’m put in a break-out room!

This week, as the main session was ending and the break-out rooms were being set up, the host acknowledged that some of us would find the idea of the ‘mingle’ daunting but not to worry, everyone was really friendly and it was a great experience, so I took a deep breath and stayed online.

I entered a room with three other women, one an American living in the UK, one from Dubai and the other from Australia, which is amazing in itself. There I am in my living room on a Wednesday morning speaking to strangers from around the world – surreal! We chatted about what we were doing, which encompassed a published poet working on a non-fiction book, a novelist drafting a second novel, a new (as yet not published) blogger pursuing a passion to write, and me. These women were truly fascinating, and we were genuinely interested in each other. The conversation flowed and we were still going strong when we were thrown out of the room! It was an inspiring and uplifting experience, and felt great to ‘meet’ new people in these unnaturally isolated times.

I realised that although I see myself as an imposter, others wouldn’t. Their perception of me is probably that I know what I’m doing. I blog, write poetry and short stories, have written the first draft of a novel, journal daily, create teaching materials for reading and writing, tutor in English, have had two business articles published, and have attended writing masterclasses with Louise Doughty and Madeleine Miller. I sound like the expert that I’m most definitely not. I’m simply someone who feels putting pen to paper is as necessary as eating and breathing, and who enjoys playing with writing.

The London Writers’ Salon is an amazing community of writers and I feel blessed to have been welcomed into their Writers’ Hour.

Find out more here: https://londonwriterssalon.com/

Five things I learnt on a writing masterclass with Louise Doughty

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As part of the Cambridge Literary Festival, I attended a creative writing masterclass entitled Plot Your Novel presented by Louise Doughty, writer of Apple Tree Yard (serialised by the BBC) amongst other novels.

Before the session, I identified what I was hoping to achieve: a deeper understanding of a method or methods which can be employed when plotting a novel; an insight into the way a successful writer works; and snippets of useful and/or interesting information. The masterclass met these aims and more.

Here are five things I learnt.

One: All stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, even if this is not immediately obvious as they might not appear in this order. This strikes me as a useful thing to think about when writing. The ending of a story might be ambiguous or inconclusive but it is still an end.

Two: Mystery is essential as it it the things the reader doesn’t know that are important to make them care and maintain their interest. I think that although this is obvious, it is worth paying particular attention to when writing: how much information are you going to give the reader and when are you going to release it? What are you going to withhold? What can you subtly hint at?

Three: Whether you are writing a short story or a novel, there must be some element of change in your character and a happening which effects this transformation. I have heard this on other courses recently and whilst I believe it probably happens subconsciously for me, it is useful to think about who your character is at the beginning, who they are at the end, and what brought about this change.

Four: Screenwriting techniques, which are quite prescriptive, are a useful tool for the novelist as they provide a structure with points when events happen (these do not have to be dramatic) from which there is no going back. I’ve never particularly been tempted to try screenwriting so have avoided these specific courses; now I’m wondering whether it might not be interesting and worthwhile signing up for one.

Five: Louise Doughty doesn’t begin writing with a fully-formed plot in mind. She comes up with ideas whilst she is in the process of writing. When I was at school, I was taught that I shouldn’t start writing until I had produced my plan. I found this impossible: how could I plan when I didn’t know what I was going to write?! Whether working on a piece of fictional or academic writing, I simply could not do this and if I had to submit a plan with my work, I would write it afterwards, somewhat defeating its point. Similarly, when I was teaching in a college and had to keep a file of detailed lesson plans, I would write them subsequent to the session. I knew the topic and had potential ideas and resources, but I let myself be guided by the learners; the lesson developed organically and try as I might, it would not follow a prescriptive plan. I am therefore always heartened to hear successful writers say they don’t produce a detailed outline before they begin writing. I feel my way of working is validated.

This was an excellent masterclass and Louise Doughty is a very inspiring, informative, interesting and encouraging person, who seems genuinely to care about helping aspiring writers.

I have been extremely impressed by the quality of events offered by the Cambridge Literary Festival and am very much looking forward to attending a session with George Saunders (author of Lincoln in the Bardo) on Crafting Short Stories and next month’s book club with Emma Donoghue (writer of Room). I might have another look at their schedule and see what else I can sign up for!

My writing intentions: April

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Last Thursday, I attended a free online goal setting workshop hosted by London Writers’ Salon[1], who I recently rediscovered, having attended one of their writing sessions in spring last year. I was reminded of them when they were mentioned in a recent New York Times‘ article. Here are my writing intentions for April.

Continue to blog regularly

In January, I resurrected this blog with the intention of writing on a regular basis. In past years, I have trailed off, getting distracted by other demands on my time. I had no intention of posting on a daily basis and yet this is what seems to have happened. I journal daily but that’s different to writing something for blog publication where there is no room for lazy sloppiness. Blogging requires more thought and effort in the knowledge that somebody might read it (my deepest gratitude to you for doing so). I also gain satisfaction from seeing my writing nicely presented and this gives me a deeper sense of purpose. Therefore, I wish to continue this in April.

Attend London Writers’ Hour

London Writers’ Salon also offers another freebie, a daily Writers’ Hour. These are live sessions, offered Monday to Friday at various times throughout the day to make it accessible to those in other time zones. You log in at your chosen time and join a community of writers for a writing session, sharing your intention for the session in the chat, listening to an inspirational reading, and then settling down to around 50 minutes of writing before feeding back on your progress at the end. After Wednesday morning’s session, there is an opportunity to go into a breakout room and ‘mingle’ with other writers. I haven’t been brave enough to do this yet; however, next week I’m going to make myself look presentable before the session (instead of my usual unwashed, un-hair-brushed early morning self) and ‘screw my [sic] courage to the sticking place’! I plan on attending one Writers’ Hour each week; I would do more except it clashes with my morning yoga.

Write a personal essay

Earlier this year, I attended a personal essay writing course so I have set this as my writing goal for April. My plan is to draft ideas and undertake any necessary research (week 1), write a first draft (week 2), edit and edit some more (week 3), and polish and declare finished (week 4).

Draw up a simple writing tracker

This will be a one page monthly calendar with space to set targets and track my writing progress by simply highlighting the days I write. This is intended to be a motivational tool, a visual record of (hopefully) achievement.

Research writing courses

I’m going to explore the different writing courses available to see what appeals to me. Any suggestions in this respect would be greatly appreciated.

What are your writing intentions for April? Share them in the comments and we can support each other to achieve them.

[1] https://londonwriterssalon.com/

Micro-memoir: recollections from my childhood

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Stilts

When you start primary school, you do what all other girls have done and will continue to do: you make a best-friend. Her name is Jennifer and she lives on the road that crosses the bottom of your street, down the slope past the small green, in a squat terraced house that backs on to a murky brook flowing between concrete walls to the small industrial area that the houses give way to.

You love visiting her house. When you’re a child, other people’s homes are always more interesting than your own, simply by virtue of the fact that they are unfamiliar: the furniture is different, the toys are different, the family’s ways are alien to your world, the only one you thought existed. How can you know otherwise? In the absence of experience, you assume everybody’s life is identical to yours.

Then there are her parents. Your friend calls them ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ and yet they aren’t; they aren’t your mum and dad, who live in the house up the slope, past the green. They are scary strangers, with the authority of schoolteachers, invoking fear – and yet your friend, Jennifer, has to live with them all the time. You are afraid of them. Taking care not to appear rude, you remain safely silent, and they in turn ignore your presence, disappearing behind the mysterious closed door of the room you are forbidden to enter. What is in that room? Unseen menace emanates through the keyhole, the gaps around the frame.

When you go to Jennifer’s, you want to explore the toy cupboard, with its alluring collection of unknown treasures. But Jennifer doesn’t. You are there to play in the backyard with her and you, being her guest, have to agree. The backyard is a small square of grey concrete: lawnless, flowerless, treeless, with the dirty stream, littered with tyres and slicked with the sheen of unknown chemicals, beyond the far brick wall.

Jennifer has stilts, the latest craze. Light, wooden stilts on which she moves elegantly round the dusty concrete. You have stilts too – your dad carries them down the slope, past the green when he takes you to Jennifer’s – but not like hers. Yours are heavy, dark wood with metal foot-stands, repurposed (with great creativity and ingenuity, you now appreciate) from an old bedframe. You struggle around the yard, the cumbersome stilts too heavy for your small-for-your-age body, balancing on one unsteady bed-leg as you heave the other a few angry inches forward.

You wish your dad understood the importance of having not just stilts, but the right stilts. You resent his thrifty ways, his pride as he hands you these ‘prized’ objects. Why don’t parents understand? You feel guilty at your unappreciation of his genius, your betrayal of his smile of satisfaction.

You plead with Jennifer to let you use hers: the lightweight wood that lifts with ease. Eventually, reluctantly, she agrees, delaying the moment for as long as she can, but finally you are gliding round the yard, gathering speed, swooping round corners, lost in perfect pleasure. You feel the sun on your face, the breeze in your hair, the tingle of excitement in your stomach. The traffic hums in the distance, a crow caws like a cheerleader, a distant dog barks in admiration…

Jennifer demands her stilts back; your time is up. ‘Yes,’ you say, and carry on until she grabs a stilt and you tumble. Regretfully, you resume your inferior, clanking struggle.

But you have something Jennifer doesn’t. Your house in the quieter road (which is not called a road like Jennifer’s road but an avenue) is clearly, even to your seven-year-old eyes, a better road as it has less traffic and doesn’t border the industrial estate. And your house has…

A Bathroom.

Jennifer’s house doesn’t have a Bathroom. She tells you she washes in the kitchen sink, she bathes in a tin bath, and worst of all, she has an outside toilet. It is cold, and dank, and damp, and the stinky air stings your nose, and the toilet paper is scratchy, and cobwebs cover the corners, and the spiders watch menacingly. And you know Jennifer may have better stilts than you, but you live up the slope, past the green, in an avenue. And your house has a Bathroom.

Thoughts about texts in translation

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I had a literature lecturer who said she would be angry if we ever studied literature in translation! I was shocked: that would close off access to many, many great works, which horrifies me even more now as I am developing an obsession with both Middle Eastern and Japanese literature. However, to a certain extent, I can understand her reasons for this.

I’ve recently reread The Outsider by Albert Camus, a favourite novel from the past, from which I remembered and could accurately quote many striking lines. However, my later copy was a new translation, the lines were altered (I felt cheated), and the text seemed subtly different. This brought home that a translated text creates a new text, a version of the original for which there could be any number of versions depending on the translator.

I think in poetry it’s even more problematic. In one language, a word can have several meanings, more than one of which is relevant to the poem. In the target language, those nuances might not exist. Then there is the sound of the words – a word might be chosen partially for its meaning, but more for its sound; perhaps this will be lost, as might the meter.

I used to see a translator as a go-between; now I see them almost as the creator of a new work, who must leave something of themselves in the recreated text.

I’m finding this subject intriguing to explore. I’m now wondering whether regardless of whether a poem is written in our first language or not, we still ‘translate’ the poem, meaning we may have our own interpretations or a certain word or phrase will resonate with us and provide a personal meaning. Additionally, we each bring our own unique knowledge and experience to a text, which influences our reading and understanding. Furthermore, the language of poetry in our mother tongue changes in meaning over time. Language is constantly evolving, hence we have modern-day translations of Shakespeare’s plays, for example, to aid understanding.

This is indeed a fascinating and complex area.

Five things I learnt on a micro-memoir writing course

This week I participated in an online micro-memoir course. Here are five things I learnt:

One: An autobiography is about a life in its entirety up to that point in time. On the other hand, a memoir focuses on a part of that life, perhaps a pivotal moment such as going through a divorce, travelling around Australia, or taking on a new challenge.

Two: A micro-memoir is usually up to 1,000 words in length and can be written and read in one sitting.

Three: Its brevity does not make it easier to write; in many ways, it is more difficult as every word has to count.

Four: It can contain the traditional story elements of setting, characterisation and plot.

Five: It’s a great form and I loved the writing activities we experimented with. Here is my six word micro-memoir inspired by an occurrence in my day:

Step-mum was cross with the newspaper.

And over to you: try writing your own six word micro-memoir and share it in the comments!

Five things I learnt on a life writing course

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I recently took an online Life Writing course. Here are five things I learnt

One: Life writing takes many forms: micro-memoir, memoir, autobiographical poem, letters, autobiography, biography, and personal essay. This is a much greater range of forms than I imagined and feels quite liberating.

Two: When we’re life writing, we need to give ourselves permission to be imperfect. After all, we are not perfect and if we present ourselves in this manner, we will alienate our readers.

Three: In any piece of writing, life or otherwise, there should be the idea of transformation. This could be from ignorance to knowledge, from conformity to rebellion, from weakness to strength, from any one state to another. It is within this journey that the interest lies.

Four: We should try and include the physical, emotional and intellectual throughout our piece of writing.

Five: When we’re writing, we shouldn’t worry about getting it perfect first time. Just write, write, write, include everything. Later when we are editing, we need to be discerning about what we leave in and what we remove. It can be hard to delete something we like but it might not be relevant to this specific piece of writing. The bonus is anything omitted can form the basis of another piece of writing – it isn’t lost; in fact, this is a bonus!

The next workshop is on micro-memoir and I’m very excited about it!

What are your thoughts on life writing?

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