Friday, May 05, 2006

By the skin of my teeth

I submitted TMA02 at 23:43 tonight. Rather too close for comfort but of rather better quality than I'd expected earlier in the week!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

An experiment

Last night, after talking it through carefully with Andy, we decided that I would give up on A215. Well, not exactly give up, but try and defer until next year. That way I could carry on writing - trying different things - but be under less time pressure with assignments (a year less pressure!) My thinking was that this year isn't going to get any less frantic than it is now, and I'm barely managing enough time focusing on writing and gathering material as it is. The last month has just vanished.

I was drinking tea with my friend down the road tonight, and telling her about this. She asked me a really important question, "What feels like a burden: the writing or writing well?" It made me realise that the pressure was how well I was expecting myself to manage to write. We decided I would experiment with writing and submitting a pretty ropy TMA. Instead of thinking and planning carefully, I'd simply slap down a draft. Twaddle if necessary. Then I'd play with it afterwards. Come the deadline (next Friday) I'd submit whatever I had and in the 'Reflection' discuss what got me there and why I hadn't got any further. I left her house rather excited about trying to slap down some of that twaddle tonight.

4 hours and 1,200 words later I have backache, but also half my TMA drafted and a pretty good idea of how to make the rest flow out on Monday. It may still be unpolished but I don't think it's twaddle, after all.

I do sometimes feel I make heavy weather of all of this. How many times do I need to be reminded that perfection is not necessary? That I can do it?

Frustrating. But at moments like this when I beat it. Exhilerating.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Cheating and winning

It's been a blowy, April day with drenching showers picking their way across the city, soaking one part while ignoring the next. Andy played damp disc golf in South Park while I fed the worms and weeded the borders in sharp sunshine. I interspersed these chores and writing, lazily. Babe curled up in a sunbeam in the spare room.

I played with the course exercises and cheated quite a bit. In fact, quite a lot. I took each activity and twisted it, so I could use it to develop ideas I've been working on. So, for example, I took Activity 7.5 (writing from the point of view of a forgetful narrator), and used it to develop an incident from my children's fiction idea, from the perspective of one of the characters writing years after the events. She turned out not to be as forgetful as perhaps was meant, but I fleshed out my ideas a bit more!

After all, this is for fun, isn't it.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Some inspiring things

I may not have managed to write much today, but I have found a few really thought provoking and useful web resources, both thanks to Kate Harrison's blog. This web site, by Caro Clarke, has lots of useful advice. The practical tips (such as the four most common mistakes in first novels) are all explained with examples, so they make a lot more sense. I also enjoyed this speech by Arthur Levine. It suggests that authenticity is all important, i.e. writing as you. Now that gets me thinking...

Writing to find out

Yesterday I went to a seminar about 'Science in Fiction' where Maggie Gee was in discussion with Philip Pullman, Brian Aldiss and John Carey. At one point Philip Pullman said, 'If you knew what was going to happen when you started writing, you'd go mad. You write to find out.' Everyone wholeheartedly agreed, which surprised me greatly. I imagined that writers all work out the plot completely before they start. How liberating to think you don't!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Cliche spotter

Andy (my partner) is brilliant at critiquing my work. In particular, his pedantry means I don't get away with anything at all. I've posted Activity 6.3 (about the character who can't forget the history of a place) into the cafe for more feedback because Andy pointed out so many things he 'didn't get'. I want second, third and fourth opinions! He looked at my Pitt Rivers piece (Activity 6.2) and picked out the phrase, 'her voice sounded far away' as a cliche. To prove his point, he typed it into Google. How useful was that! It's an immediate cliche spotter! There was some pretty terrible writing up there... Try it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


It's strange how disparate things can come together and inspire. I came home from work in a low mood after another difficult day, and checked to see if my TMA was back (for the 57th time). It isn't. Then I thought I'd have a quick bash at Activity 6.2, which asks you to describe a place twice, and conjure two completely different moods in the setting.

I'd wondered about the idea of a woman with morning sickness being freaked out by the creepiness of the Pitt Rivers Museum, and the same woman, feeling well, loving the atmosphere (after reading someone elses 6.2 which used morning sickness). I'd played around with it at the weekend and left myself uninspired. Today I had some feedback in my tutor group about another exercise, that starting 'in the middle of the action' worked well. This made me think of starting with the woman staring at a shrunken head and her reaction to it. Suddenly, it just poured out of me, and I got really into refining and refining, working on each word. I'm quite happy with the result, so got straight on and did Activity 6.1. Could it be starting to flow again? I must remember that the way to get started is just to do something, just start, even if I'm not in the mood.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Blocked, stuck, miserable, decaffeinated

I'm stuck, stuck, stuck. I just don't seem able to start writing. I'm still working on chapter 5 weeks after I last posted about it. I've been feeling more closed up each day, more unable to think of anything to write, and more self-critical. Perhaps it is 'real' life intruding: work has been stressful to the extent I've arrived home each night and just wanted to curl up in bed, escape in a book and then blank my worries with sleep.

At times like this I feel as if I have a nagging, critical monster on my shoulder, whispering in my ear all day: 'Do you really think you can write? You may have written a story for the TMA that a few people seemed to like but now you've got to write lots more words, and you realise that you can only really write in the first person, don't you?'

Today I'm standing up to it and having a go, but I'm struggling because every attempt feels banal. I know the theory is that you write even if it's rough and unpromising, because there will be gold in the muck. Right now I just feel over my wellies in muck.

I'm trying to do activity 5.2 at the moment. The task is to take a stereotypical character (like an old fashioned elderly person) and write a description of them that makes you realise they are more complex. I'm going to try a freewrite to try and get started, after another cup of tea...