Tag Archives: creative writing

Library days

18 Jun

So the last few days have been spent in the library, with me trying my best to be productive.  There is definitely something to be said for taking myself out of my bedroom that makes me stretch myself, determined to reach that target word count.  In a quiet environment where I can see that (mostly) everyone around me is working, a sort of restless competitiveness consumes me, spurring me on to continue writing one more word.  Then another.  And then it goes on.

However, not everyone  in the library works.  This guy was sat next to me, snoring ridiculously loudly.

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He kicked off his shoes so every time I moved a certain way, I was hit by this awful stench of foot odour which I can confirm is definitely not a source of inspiration.  Plus, he was sleeping upright so his head kept on bobbing about which got very annoying.  I tried everything to wake him up – I coughed loudly, I moved my chair around, I even tried bumping into him accidentally.  But alas, he really was that tired.

Being in a library also means that if I want a break from writing, I can browse the different books they have to offer and that usually offers me inspiration.  Recently, I’ve been devouring books about writing and publishing, some of which have been immensely useful to gaining a further insight into the whole process.  I’m also now a subscriber to a number of great writing magazines, including the brilliant publication for women writers, Mslexia which has some really handy hints and advice for aspiring writers.

So my main issue is to maintain this momentum.  Being back at work, I can already feel myself slipping into my default state of general apathy but I CAN’T LET THAT HAPPEN. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from all this reading I’ve done recently, it’s that no matter what, I should write a little every day.  It’s not good to write loads one day, then sit back and think I can relax and not write anything till the week after.  You lose your flow and this can lead to your writing becoming stilted and forced.  But probably the most important thing that I have gleaned from all this reading is that the important thing is: just finish the first draft!! It will undoubtedly be shite but at least you’ll have something to work with and you can edit it and edit again to make it better.

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Novel progress update

13 Jun

This is more of a post for my own motivation purposes.  I was aware when deciding to undertake the immense project of writing a novel that this would be by no means easy and even though I am still in the beginning half of the process (I am currently about 20,000 words into my novel), I can confirm I was right in my initial assertion.

On the 1st January, I was refreshed, excited and raring to undertake this mammoth of a project but this enthusiasm gradually fizzled out a few months into the year.  Perhaps it is something to do with the inevitable apathy that affects all of us after a period, or it could be to do with the fact that I became jaded by the whole idea, sometimes dismissing my dream to write and publish a novel as a faraway dream.  I allowed myself to become lazy, making excuses to justify my procrastination, to the point where I would rather lie on my bed and stare at my ceiling than lift pen to paper or fire up my laptop.  The longer I left this, the more difficult it became to get started again.

What I find hardest of all is battling the self-doubt that constantly arises, especially when reading back over work and cringing at its general awfulness.  I am constantly struggling to push the destructive thoughts that so violently and viciously disparage my writing abilities to one side and continue with the main task at hand: actually writing.  I have found that one recurring justification I make to myself to not sit down and actually write is because I need to  ‘research.’  What I am researching is not always clear.  Of course, research to a certain extent is necessary – more so for some genres than others – but I ended up labelling literally everything I did as ‘research’ or a way to suddenly get inspired.  So in my mind, watching ridiculously adorable pugs rolling about on YouTube videos was ‘research’ and browsing shopping websites for dresses was part of my necessary routine to suddenly feel inspired.  Before long, I realised I had written embarrassingly little when compared with the goals I had set myself at the beginning of the year.

I think things can easily become stale when you feel dispirited and you don’t see any palpable results.  What was really inspiring was going to the Grazia event on publishing your first novel as this gave me an insight into the business of writing and selling a book.  Sure, it is difficult but it is not impossible.  What I realised was that I needed to have a far more professional attitude towards writing and treat it in some ways as a job, disciplining myself to write everyday.  This not only helps you progress your novel but it also allows you to improve your writing skills.  Writing a novel does, however, require hard work and determination and that was where I was going wrong.  I had simply become impatient and expected things to move a lot quicker than they did.

I am now setting myself achievable objectives that will help me achieve my ultimate goal: to finish my novel and self-edit it within the year.  The only way I can possibly accomplish this is by remaining focused to prevent my perfectionist tendencies from hindering any progress at all.  One step at a time.

What is also useful is to address your own preferences, what you like and what suits your best to maximise your productivity when writing.  For example, for me:

– I need to write on a computer or laptop, rather than by pen.  This is because I can type far quicker than I can write so it is much more productive.

– I like to punctuate one and a half hour writing sessions with half an hour breaks.

– I like to write in the library.

– Sometimes I like to listen to music when I write; however, it has to be purely instrumental (I find I work best to minimalist piano music).

– If I am focused and determined, I can push out around 2000 words (quality writing) in a solid day’s writing.

– I like to print out the first draft of each chapter and make amendments on a hard copy.

– Attending literary events such as informative lectures or book clubs increases my motivation to plod on with my novel and makes me feel less isolated when writing.

– Eight hours of sleep a night is a necessary requirement if I am expected to produce anything of above average quality.

– As much as I try to convince myself that writing in bed with my dog is a good idea, it really isn’t.  I either end up falling asleep or playing with my dog, both of which result in very little writing actually getting done.

As a little aside, here is a picture of my dog.  His cuteness distracts me from my work!:

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So, no excuses – I will push ahead and stick to my goal.  It’s hard but you get an amazing sense of satisfaction when you hit your desired word count for the day as you can see yourself moving closer to the finishing line.

Why I want to write

15 May

I was moaning to a friend about my (lack of) writing progress and she suddenly stopped me and posed the simple yet incredibly revealing question: ‘Why do you want to write?’ 

I was rather taken aback and shocked that I had no immediate response on the tip of my tongue.  Surely if I really wanted to write, I would be able to express why I want to with the least provocation?  In the past, I’ve probably batted away similar enquiries with the same vague digressions on how I enjoy creative writing, how I was relatively good at it at school and how I like reading. Bland, formulaic responses.  Sure – I do enjoy reading, this is a prerequisite for most aspiring writers but this isn’t  the key factor motivating me to write.  And whether you were ‘good’ at something at school is an even worse reason.  I was pretty average at science at school but this was due to the boring classes and uninspiring teachers we had, rather than the subject matter.  In fact, I’ve probably learnt far more about science by reading books out of my own volition and actively seeking answers in the last few years, sparked by curiosity about why and how things work.

This question has made me re-evaluate my motivations and purpose and at just the right time, too.  I believe that if you really want to write, it should not be a chore.  Of course, writing requires some form of discipline, especially if you wish to make some sort of living from it but ultimately, the therapeutic enjoyment it gives you should outweigh any of the negatives. Writing can be a lonely pastime so if you are going to put yourself through the hours of solitude it requires, a burning desire should be what motivates you, otherwise it all seems to be a waste of your valuable energy which could be employed elsewhere in a more social activity.

So, reflecting on all this, I have concluded that it is about time I change the way I view writing.  Recently, it has been something that I have viewed with trepidation and dread.  I have hesitated to write anything for fear it will be awful.  They key is to write through this ‘block’.  The likelihood is the first time I write things, it will be bad.  But I need to lay something down before I can even attempt to make things better.  There is no room for perfectionist tendencies when you are working on your first draft.  The red pen should come out afterwards.

The real reason, after much introspection, why I write is because I want – no, need –to articulate my thoughts in some tangible form to help me make sense of myself and the world in which I live.  In some ways, this is horribly egoistic but I believe this is a key motivating factor for most writers- writing helps to confirm my existence and carve out some sort of uniqueness in my experiences in a world of seven billion people. I love the escapism writing provides; I find thoroughly immersing yourself in writing has a therapeutic effect, where you lose yourself in a world which has no limits or judgement.  That is why I want to write.

Aside

Don’t leave the day job, folks

4 Apr

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In a recently discovered 13 page letter by the acclaimed author, Oscar Wilde advocates writers to continue with a day job, believing that his success was due to him never relying on the craft as a source of income.  This little gem is useful for all those would-be writers out there who are contemplating whether to just pack the office job in completely and begin life as a full-time writer.

“The best work in literature is always done by those who do not depend on it for their daily bread and the highest form of literature, Poetry, brings no wealth to the singer.

“Make some sacrifice for your art and you will be repaid but ask of art to sacrifice herself for you and a bitter disappointment may come to you.”

I found this both interesting and enlightening as I guess I had always assumed that I do things best when I’m under inordinate amounts of pressure, which seemed to be the case with pretty much all the exams/ academic achievements in my life so far – and what would be a higher pressured situation than not having any money?  However, the logical and rational side to me acknowledges that my belief that hard graft and stress will bring results is deeply flawed.  Not everything needs to resemble some type of endurance test (for this, I blame my Asian blood, where pain is considered ‘a good thing’ a lot of the time).  I have to remind myself that writing should ultimately be a fun, relaxing and therapeutic process, otherwise, well, what’s the bloody point of it all?

I had never seriously considered giving up the day job, as my (lack of) funds would literally feed, home and clothe me for about a week before I would be forced to crawl on my hands and feet back to the mother, but I had recently been considering other means of income.  I came up with many; however most of these ideas were either implausible as they would require a lot more capital than I could feasibly come up with or in some cases, they were literally impossible…

But if Wilde says ‘don’t do it’, then that pretty much settles things for me 🙂

Novel update

7 Mar

I have been pretty lax with writing my novel.  Not something I’m proud of.  I have, however, been working on a series of short stories, some of which I’ve sent off to various competitions so hopefully something positive can come of these although I find out quite a bit later on in the year.  I think it’s easier to keep motivated when writing short stories – probably something to do with the shorter time span involved in creating them which allows you to see the fruits of your labours sooner rather than later.

To try and get back into the swing of things, my predominant focus this weekend will be my writing.  I have even taken Monday off to spend a whole day in the library.  No distractions at all – I shall disable the internet – and let’s see what happens…

Creative writing progress

12 Feb

Finally submitted my second assignment for my LSJ course, which involved having to write a plot summary of a published novel and submitting the first chapter or section of your novel.  Being Queen Procrastinator, this took me a lot longer than I had anticipated as I completely rewrote the beginning of my novel, deciding to adopt a first person narrative.  This has radically altered the tone of my novel which has slipped into darker and more reflective territory – something I feel I am better suited to.

With regards to the course, I am far more interested in the personal feedback I receive from my tutor and I would probably pay the fee purely for the constructive criticism I get.  However, I find some of the assignment tasks like writing a random plot summary slightly arbitrary.  I think this is all useful stuff, especially when you’re trying to sell your novel but at the moment, I’m much more concerned with writing my novel, rather than marketing it.

Rachel Cusk’s article: in praise of the creative writing course

22 Jan

Over the weekend, I was interested to read an article by Rachel Cusk in the Review section of The Guardian (available to read at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jan/18/in-praise-creative-writing-course) on whether the cynicism surrounding creative writing courses is beginning to look outdated.  The article emphasises the controversy around the standards that these students in these classes are held to.  People can give you all sorts of advice, and often do, regarding what constitutes good writing but whose opinion should you listen to, if any at all?

A lot of these creative writing courses do train people to produce work to a ‘publishable standard.’  After all, seeing their work in print is the ultimate goal for a lot of writers.  The publishing world is like any sector and in many ways, creative writing courses hone your ability to make your mark on such a competitive industry.  However, I suppose the fear here is that these courses will inevitably churn out hordes of unoriginal authors, jumping on bandwagons of topics and themes that are considered popular.  You just have to look at the ridiculous number of books that were published in the aftermath of the Twilight success, all featuring vampires.  Or the ‘erotic thrillers’ that came out after the housewives’ favourite, Fifty Shades of Grey.

While this is a concern, I feel that the market can differentiate between the trashy and the literary.  And there’s a market for both.  If creative writing courses can provide support and encouragement to writers then surely this is a positive thing.  Many would-be writers do not have the confidence to get started, doubting themselves and their ability.  Courses like these could offer some form of guidance with a basic set of tools and encouragement, motivating them to succeed.

In the same vein, I received my first feedback from the LSJ course and so far, it’s been incredibly useful with personalised suggestions from my tutor and advice on books to read that would help me in my writing.  Guess I’ll have to wait and see how the course progresses though to give a full analysis.