Wednesday, 5 December 2012

How the Writing is (not) Going

I've been quiet of late - in real life, as well as on my blog. Winter is always a difficult time. The dark days exacerbate my depression and the weather makes it hard to get out and about, even if I feel up to it. The upshot is I haven't written anything for a month.

However, I've been feeling better for the past week. Not 100% better, but better enough to write a little and get some perspective. Collecting my dissertation last week has helped to encourage me, since the comments were mostly positive and the criticism has given me a lot of food for thought. It amazes me that the best-received stories are those where I took more risks, experimented a little and was more adventurous. I aim to write more stories like these in the near future!

I often forget that the things that make good writers good are the things that make them unique as people. Or rather, I recognise this in relation to other writers, but not myself! For so many years, I paid too much attention to people who wanted to restrain my ambition and imagination. People who saw my differences as negatives and tried to force me to be more "normal". No wonder I find it difficult to expose my quirks through my writing.

Tania Hershman recently blogged about permissions (here), which has preoccupied me since I read the post. I think doing a Creative Writing MA has given me permission to consider my writing as a career, as opposed to a hobby or pipedream, and to push the boundaries. It's given me permission to experiment and to show the results of these experiments to others. Before, I didn't want to waste people's time and assumed that their comments would be negative; I've discovered the opposite is true. People seem to delight in reading something different and are positive about these "experiments" while offering constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement.

I need to be braver! That's tricky, since suffering from anxiety means I'm scared of stupid, trivial things much of the time. But I'm determined to try to be more courageous and embrace my innate quirkiness, which I hope will make me a better writer.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Reasons to Be Cheerful

1. It's National Short Story Week! Check out the website and keep an eye out for blogs promoting short stories. Give me links if you find good ones ;-) I fell in love with short stories a while ago, so  I'm thrilled about anything which draws attention to the form. I've also got Alice Munro's new collection, Dear Life, on pre-order - it comes out on Thursday - so I can't wait to read that. Just the thing to cheer me up when winter is getting me down.

2. I passed my MA - with Merit! It's what I expected, but you can never be sure until you see it; my mind invented all kinds of scenarios that would result in me failing. Doing a Creative Writing MA isn't about the grades, but it's nice to do well and I assume it means I'm a competent writer.

3. I bought an iPad! Well, it was high time I gave in and bought an Apple product. I don't have a smartphone or anything, so it's convenient to be able to check email and other stuff online without having to log on and shut down the computer. Especially since it's the family computer, so someone else is liable to be on there. I'm also hoping to fins lots of fun (preferably cheap/free) apps to help with my writing. Any recommendations...?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Great Blog Post on BPD

This comes under the 'waffling' portion of my blog, since it's obviously not related to reading or writing, but it is an important issue. I have written about my experiences with mental illness (particularly in this post), in part because I believe that the stigma aurrounding mental illness will never end unless sufferers speak out.

So I was both gratified and disappointedto read the post Borderline personality disorder and institutionalised discrimination on the Time to Change blog. It's a fantastic post that highlights one of the problems faced by many people with BPD. As someone with BPD, it saddened me but made me glad that the author has spoken out about mental health professionals who discriminate against BPD.

I've never faced BPD-specific discrimination from NHS workers - everyone I've dealt with in recent years has been fantastic - but the misinformation and discriminatory attitudes on the internet (and in other media) do upset me. There is a tendency to label people with BPD as attention seekers who cause trouble because they are selfish and spiteful. This isn't true. I hope lots of people read the Time to Change blog and realise that experiencing BPD is difficult and people with BPD don't deserve to be discriminated against.

By the way, I love the comment from crochetkid75, titled 'Great blog post' (the third one down) - they sound like an awesome person!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Fighting Perfectionism

I'm the type of person who could get 99% in an exam and say 'why didn't I get 100%?' Regular readers of this blog know this already: I think I've mentioned, about seventy-two times, how I regard anything less than the top grade as failure. Or used to. Nowadays, I'm striving to be less of a perfectionist.

I've also 'talked' openly about my struggles with mental illness (recap: I have Borderline Personality Disorder with depression and anxiety) and perfection feeds into - and feeds upon - this struggle. In simple terms, trying to be perfect aggravates my anxiety and my inevitable failure to be perfect exacerbates my depression. I've always tried to kid myself that perfectionism has its benefits. I would claim that I wouldn't have achieved good results if I hadn't been aiming for excellent results; that perfectionism was a motivator and I'd otherwise sit on my arse watching TV all day... Total BS.

The truth I had been ignoring all along is perfectionism gets you nowhere. I haven't achieved stuff because of my perfectionism - I've achieved them in spite of perfectionism.

Perfectionism paralyzes you. It causes you to stare at a blank computer screen because you're terrified what you write won't be perfect. And the most ridiculous part of all this? You know it won't be perfect.

I'm not aware of any story or novel that everyone in the world agrees is perfect. I know plenty that I think are pretty much perfect. I know a few that many people say are close to perfect. Perfection doesn't exist.

Even if I had gotten top marks all through my educational adventures, it wouldn't mean my work was perfect. It would mean my work had merited the maximum marks available: nothing more. Even if I manage, one day, to write a story critics hail as perfect and that wins me many prizes and admirers (dream on!), it doesn't mean the story would be perfect.

So I'm trying to give up perfectionism. Instead, I'm aiming for gradual improvement.

This struck me when I was on the treadmill today. I'm very unfit and obese. I can't go very far or fast on the treadmill, so I just aim to go farther each time. Even 0.1 mile farther. 0.2 on a good day. It's been a couple of weeks since I resumed walking/jogging on the treadmill (my MA got in the way, so I hadn't been on it for the best part of a year) and today I went nearly a mile farther than the first time I got back on it. I hope to be able to walk/jog 4 miles by the end of 2012.

It would be ridiculous to tell myself 'I'm going to do 10 miles today' before I get on the treadmill. Yet I've been doing the equivalent of this in other areas of my life - especially learning and writing. And, indeed, learning to write.

I'm not going to write brilliant prose anytime soon - and certainly not in a first draft - but that's fine. My aim is to get a little better each time I write something. Who knows, maybe one day I'll achieve the literary equivalent of a sub-three hour marathon!

 

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Life After a Creative Writing MA

6 weeks after submitting my dissertation, I'm beginning to get back to 'normal' as I fight off cold number 3. So what do you do when you finish one of the most intense years of your life? Here's my advice...

1. Recharge.
You're exhausted, so don't try to continue at the same pace and intensity. A break from writing might help, but don't force it if you feel like writing. In fact, don't force anything - sleep, read for pleasure, eat cake, have fun and relax. Note: recharging might take longer than expected.

2. Plot a roadmap.
Consider what you want in the future; how you'd like you career to progress in the long-term. Then work out short-term goals based on your ambitions. You'll end up changing them, but that's life. It's important to feel you're heading in a specific direction when you finish a Creative Writing MA, otherwise you'll feel lost without deadlines and reading lists as your guide.

3. Follow any leads.
During the course of your MA you will have come across writers you're never heard of, genres you wish to explore, publishing opportunites, possible contacts, courses you might want to do in future... A plethora of information you haven't had the time to investigate. Now is the time. If you can't take action straightaway, make notes somewhere you won't forget about them (i.e. in a notebook rather than on the back of an envelope).

4. Keep writing.
Doing a Creative Writing MA can leave you overwhelmed, intimidated and convinced you have no talent. This is normal - don't let these feelings dissuade you. Underneath these negative feelings, you will be inspired, motivated and excited. So try writing in new genres or formats; work on those crazy ideas that scare and excite you. Take a break from writing if you think it'll be beneficial, but don't stop altogether.

5. Review.
Review what you've learnt during the course of the MA - and keep reviewing regularly. A lot of what you've learnt might not resonate with you right now, but could help immensely in future. However, you will recognise that much of what you've learnt can help you straightaway - whether it's a fruitful writing exercise, a technical aspect, or the value of feedback - so work out how to build these things into your writing life post-MA.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Duly Noted

I've been inspired by Sarah Salway's blog on writers' notebooks and thought I'd share. Here are mine:

 
 
The pink one is my general writing journal. It's an A5 linen-covered notebook with ruled pages, from Paperchase. It's my fifth writing journal since being persuaded to start one, 3 years ago, by my Open University tutor. I alternate between pink and purple because I love bright colours and the only other option is black.
 
If I remember correctly, the official OU writing courses line is to use whatever notebook you're most comfortable with - whether it's an hideously expensive, fancy one or your basic Tesco Value pad. However, my tutor recommended that we use a notebook that feels special. She said it would serve as a reminder that our writing is special and make us value our writing.
 
As someone who has ripped apart and thrown away many notebooks over the years, I can confirm that my tutor is right. While not especially fancy, my notebooks cost too much to rip out pages. Therefore I keep all the scrawled mess and idiotic ideas I come up with, and am sometimes suprised when re-reading to find a gem amongst the dross. It also means I can see how I think and how my writing has developed.
 
The black and white notebook in the photo was a gift from one of my best friends. It's also from Paperchase and I'm using it for a current writing project, to keep all my plans and ideas in the same place. I love the textures of the covers and pages of these notebooks - it's a pleasure to write in them, even when the writing's not so good. I also adore the ribbon markers!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

MA Hangover

It's been 3 and a half weeks since I submitted my dissertation, yet my brain is still scrambled. I'm exhausted and am trying to fight off my second cold since I finished. In theory, I am motivated to get ahead with Writing Proper but it's not going well...

My current strategy is to tie up a couple of loose ends, i.e. short stories I drafted before  my dissertation took over my life. One is in surprisingly good shape, though it needs more description, imagery, sensory information. etc. to achieve a better balance. The other was a mess with a good story buried in the middle. I redrafted it last night, but suspect it will need several more reworkings to produce something decent.

I also plan to spend this week freewriting and generating ideas. I don't know if I need to reconnect with writing and I wouldn't say I'm stuck for inspiration, but it's something productive that doesn't put pressure on me. Maybe I'll be able to think straight by next week...

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Ending/Beginning: Reflecting on my Creative Writing MA

I submitted my dissertation a few weeks ago, but can't get my head out of gotta-meet-deadline mode. The back-to-school scent in the air doesn't help, since I have just finished 4 years of full-time education. Besides, this is a beginning: I must now focus on forging a career as a writer, if I am to stand any chance of success.

Doing a Creative Writing MA is one of the best decisions I've made in my life. There is much debate around whether you can learn to write: people seem to love the myth that geniuses are born, not made, and believe that all good writers automatically know how to write well. They probably also believe that great writers write perfect first drafts. I don't know if I'm a good writer - or if I have the potential to be a good writer - but I have learnt more over the past year than I had in the previous 10+ years of trying to write.

What I have learnt:
1. I'm not alone. There are other people who have this crazy dream of making a living through writing.
2. I'm competent. None of my tutors ripped my work to shreds (literally or figuratively). In fact, my marks have been good (though not brilliant) and gradually improved throughout the course.
3. Loads of technical stuff - including things I'd never really considered. Like gesture. I'd never appreciated how gesture can perform complex tasks while appearing simple.
4. To let my imagination run wild. I did a module on experimental writing, which helped me realise how I'd constrained my writing over the years.
5. There are (some) people who will take me and my writing seriously.

I can't express how much I've learnt or how much confidence I've gained. I know universities are accused of viewing Creative Writing MAs as cash cows, but mine was worth every penny. And whatever the university thinks, the writers teaching the courses will, in my experience, encourage and nurture writing talent.

The only 'regrets' I have are centred around what I cannot change: my problems with mental illness. I have Borderline Personality Disorder with Depression and Anxiety, so I found it difficult to interact with my tutors and fellow students. I didn't take advantage of having a successful novelist available to give me feedback, because my low self-esteem makes me believe I'm not worth his time. I didn't exchange work with people as much as I would have liked, because I thought they wouldn't value my critiques and reading my work would be a waste of their time.

C'est la vie. Living with mental illness is never easy. I must focus on the positive: I completed the MA despite these struggles and found it more valuable than I expected. Now I have to put what I've learnt into practice...



Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Scatterbrain’s Guide to Getting – and Staying – Organised


I was the kid who forgot her swimming costume and towel when the Brownie leaders arranged for us to go to a school’s swimming pool as a treat. The three detentions I got at school were all due to handing in homework late (though I swear one of them wasn’t my fault). I got my ears pierced when I was eight, but was in my late teens before I could buy a pair of earrings without losing one or both within six months.
 
Discovering this will shock people who have known me fewer than ten years, but I am a bona fide scatterbrain.

Yup, me. The crazy lady whose handbag is full of painkillers, spare tissues and indigestion tablets. Who not only met every deadline during a BA, Open University and MA over the past four years, but often submitted work early. The one who seems to be permanently attached to her planner.

 I had to get organised because I was so disorganised. I found that getting organised was surprisingly pain-free and gave me more time to get work done or, more realistically, relax and have fun. And I shall now share my best strategies…

 
1. Have a planner and colour code it.

 Seriously. Buy a diary or planner with lots of space under each day and create a colour code. It doesn’t need to be elaborate – using just two or three colours will make a humungous difference.

 I write deadlines and important appointments in red. Social appointments and anything that can be rescheduled are in blue. I also write notes to myself – usually stuff I need to do or buy – in pink (important) or purple (not important). Birthdays and anniversaries are in green. Black is miscellaneous and may be underlined or circled by the relevant colour later.

 You can see at a glance what you need to do and what else you’ve got on. You can review the notes to yourself and, if they’ve become more important after not being done for a few days, re-enter them under the higher priority colour. It might seem pedantic, but the pay-off is immense. Besides, your personal colour coding will become automatic after a few weeks – and you will probably find yourself using it in other contexts.

 
2. For every email account, make a folder labelled ‘Important Stuff’.

And whenever you get an important email, copy it to your Important Stuff folder. This way, you still have it with your old/read email (which I find useful), but can also find it in an instant. I found it particularly useful for my university email account, which bombards me with emails of varying importance (from ‘vital’ to ‘irrelevant’). If I save emails to a general folder, the important ones get lost amongst the rest.

 If you get considerably more emails than me, you could create folders for different types and levels of importance. For example, new addresses/phone numbers, online payment records, especially kind words from friends… It takes half a second to copy an email to the relevant folder and a few seconds to retrieve it. Compare that to trawling through a general ‘saved email’ folder or list of read/old emails.
 

3. If you have a lot of something, make an inventory.

 I refuse to believe I’m the only person who has bought books I already own. And it used to happen more than I care to admit. So I typed a list of all the books I own. Ditto DVDs. I won’t lie: this can take a while. But it saves time (and money) in the long term; and updating it every few months doesn’t take very long at all.

 I can now see what books I own and take printouts when I go shopping – though if I had a smartphone, I’d access the list through that instead. Whenever I buy a new book, I jot it down. Every so often, I type up the changes and print a new copy. It’s also handy to look at your inventory instead of having to search your shelves, especially if you don’t keep your books (or whatever else) in a strict order.

 
4. Fall in love with lists.

 But not too much – if you spend more time making the lists than getting stuff done, there is no point. I write a general to-do list once a week and update as needed. If it gets too long and difficult to handle (stop giggling!), I make specific lists for each project or type of task and make a note on the general list to refer to the specific ones. I also find it useful to split each task into small chunks – especially if I’m procrastinating.

 
5. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up.

 It just makes you more stressed, anxious and disorganised. If a strategy isn’t working for you, see if you can adapt and personalise it to make it work. If it still doesn’t work, move on. But you owe it to yourself to give organisational strategies – whether mine or others – a decent shot. Being organised can and does change your life.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Home Strait...

My dissertation is due a week on Friday, though I aim to post it a week today (cheaper, easier and less stressful than driving to campus through roads full of holidaymakers). I have finished the essay and am concentrating on the fiction component, seven Gothic short stories that are loosely linked. I seem to be tweaking rather than making major changes; I'm not sure if that's a good sign or not.

Deadlines have to be met, so I feel a mixed dread and elation when I 'complete' a story in time. Although my dissertation deadline marks the end of my Masters, it's also the beginning. I now have the tools needed to try and embark on a writing career - no excuses. The stories I am preparing for submission will be reworked and polished several times over - regardless of whether I am lucky enough to get them published.

No wonder I feel torn. Next week might be the end of a year's intense work, but it's the beginning of my life's work.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Student Panic: a quick update

My creative writing dissertation is due 4 weeks tomorrow. Eek!

It's not going badly, but the next few weeks will be hard work. My stories will be redrafted as much as I can stand. My essay will have stuff added to it, because it's on the short side. I will read as much as possible to help the story drafting and essay.


The main problem is I have a terrible awareness of how little I know. My research has led to me finishing with a longer reading list than I started with - not including the books I've read. It's good in a way, because I need to write even more stories after I hand in my dissertation, to turn the dissertation into a full collection of linked Gothic stories and to submit. Knowing my next step is reassuring.

On the other hand... I know NOTHING!


There are so many authors I need to read and learn from; so many hours of writing practice I need to put in. I want my dissertation to be as good as I can make it and there's so much to cram in. I keep repeating the word 'so'. Hope I don't do that in my dissertation.


I have to remind myself that the Creative Writing MA is just one leg of my journey. A long, arduous drive up a motorway with no rest stops, but still only part of the whole. Whatever the result - good or bad - it won't be as important as what I've already learnt or what comes next.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Dissertation Madness

My lack of posting over the past couple of weeks is due to my brain being replaced by cotton wool. Well, not exactly - but it feels like it! I've been busy working on my dissertation for a Creative Writing MA. I've chosen to submit linked short stories (as opposed to a section of a novel or screenplay). The creative writing portion of my dissertation has to be around 15,000 words.

Last night, I finished the first draft of my final story: I have 7 stories which currently total 13,500 words. These first drafts are very rough and I would rather walk over broken glass than submit them as is. They need redrafting several times, but I'm relieved that I have an accurate idea of what I'm doing.

I now get to focus on writing a 5,000 word contextualising essay. If you're thinking 'I have no idea what I'd write for a contextualising essay,' join the club! While I read like crazy and attempt to draft the essay, hopefully I'll get some distance from my stories and will be able to approach rewriting with some level of freshness.

Needless to say, I'm incredibly stressed. I spent an hour crying at the computer on Monday because I realised the story I'd planned to open the collection wasn't working and I'd have to replace it with 2 others. The more I read of/about Gothic and Southern Gothic fiction, the more I confuse myself thinking about what I want to achieve with my stories.

Don't be surprised if you hear of a 28 year old woman found at her computer in a trance, mumbling 'But is it weird enough?'

Monday, 25 June 2012

Sublimity is in the Details

Since reading Tessa Hadley's judge's comments in the current issue of Mslexia magazine (Issue 54, Jun/Jul/Aug 2012), I've been thinking more about detail. When reading the short stories submitted for Mslexia's annual short story competition, Hadley looks for 'those giveaway details which are unexpected and illuminating and true.' Truth being, in this case, emotional truth: something that resonates as part of our shared human experience.

Hadley points out that these details are the opposite of clichés and writers have to work hard to avoid the tendency of language to revert to cliché. I'm guilty of this - sometimes I'll purposely write a cliché in a draft and make a note to change it to something different, better and unique, but sometimes clichés slip through when I haven't paid attention to detail. Hadley's comments have served as a useful reminder that beautiful, accurate and enlightening details are an essential ingredient of good short stories. Like poetry, short stories have to project strong, vivid images the reader can absorb in a (relavtively) short time and which later echo in the reader's mind.

The more I think about it, the more I realise the truth of these observations. The most haunting short stories I've read all have at least one striking image. Often, they have several striking images of which or two are sublime. The woman's hypocritical accusations of unfairness at the end of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. The ludicrous, identical hats in All That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor. The single, grey hair on the pillow in A Rose For Emily by William Faulkner.

Carson McCullers, in The Flowering Dream: Notes on Writing, which is collected in The Mortgaged Heart, says 'Always details provoke more ideas than any generality can furnish.' I love her use of the word 'provoke' - short stories should be provoking, they should make readers look at life and humanity from a different perspective and discover something about their own lives.

McCullers also says 'Good prose should be fused with the light of poetry.' This can be interpreted in many ways, but for now I shall interpret it thus: stories, especially short stories, should be revealing and thought provoking, but should wear these properties with a lightness. A key way of achieving this is through the judicious use of illuminating details.

I find this very inspiring and intimidating. Especially as I work on the drafts of the short stories which will comprise my dissertation... Sublimity may lie in the details, but I'm wary that madness might lie in the work of creating these details!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Developing Passion(s) for Life

I read this post by Stina Lindenblatt and it got me thinking about passions and life in general. For those who don't know, I have a mental illness and I've been assessing where I am and thinking about the future. This is a long post, but I think my story could help other people. It's important to talk about mental illness and people's experiences, otherwise the stigma will remain. See http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/


The Void

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety several years ago, although I had been suffering symptoms since I was 14/15. Between the ages of 19 and 22, my life was extremely bleak. I was deep in depression and too scared to leavc the house a lot of the time. I withdrew from my friends and had to quit jobs because of the amount of time I needed to take off. I was suicidal, self-harming and regularly having panic attacks. I thought my life was over - I had failed to go to university, like my friends, and nothing I tried (including losing 60lbs by starving myself) made a difference.

Thankfully, medication and counselling helped me feel a little better and start thinking I might have a future. The NHS is wonderful. Sure, it's slow and under-funded and there are many other problems, but I would not be here without it. The support I got from some family members (especially my parents) and friends was also vital and invaluable. So I found myself, just having turned 23, frustrated that my life was so painful and empty.

One of my best friends was living in Valencia for several months and had invited me to visit her. The air fare was cheap and I could stay in my friend's room, so all I had to pay for was food and fun. I felt lonely, desperate and ready to make a change: I arranged a 10 day holiday at the end of July 2007. It changed my life.



The Candle Flame in the Cave

Looking back, I can't quite believe I did it. I'd only been abroad twice before and had never flown. The furthest I'd been on my own was the city 25 miles away, where I went to college. I spent a lot of time reading and thinking in parks, soaking up the sun when my friend was working. Education has always been important to me and, in my darkest times, films were my only comfort; so I decided to go to university and do a Film Studies BA.

I was still depressed and anxious, but had enough 'good' or just 'okay' days to make plans. I could attend the university in the city where I went to college, living at home and travelling to lectures by train. I would have my family's support and my parents charge considerably less rent than student housing. To prepare and get references for my application, I did an A Level Psychology evening class (at my old college!) and a short course in creative writing with the Open University.

This rekindled my passion for writing and gave me more confidence than I'd had since I was a kid. I decided to learn how to drive - something I'd been far too nervous to do before. Living at home and rarely going out (other than to lectures) made my student loan go a long way!


Rolling Down the Rockface

My first year at university was terrific. My anxiety and depression were more controlled than they'd ever been. Sure, my experience was far from the drugs, sex and rock n roll stereotype the media love to portray, but since I was a hermit 2 years ago, I was doing pretty damn well. I thought about what kind of future I wanted and kept coming back to writing.

So my plan had a next stage: do a Creative Writing MA. The only way I could afford this (and, frankly, cope) was to get a place at the same university. To prepare (and, again, get a more relevant reference than my film tutors could provide), I decided to do 2 year-long, part-time Open University courses in creative writing. They were both fabulous and confirmed my desire to be a writer. I could also get a diploma by completing them.


 The Jungle  

My mental health continued to fluctuate and then deteriorated. Despite doing well at university and passing my driving test first time, which meant I could drive to campus instead of taking the train - often a challenge due to my anxiety, there were still times when I wanted to die. I also realised I had problems with impulsive spending and had resumed self-harming. I knew I had what I wanted, but I still felt depressed and hopeless a lot of the time.

I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) a year and a half ago, at the age of 26, and everything made more sense. It explained my problems/behaviours that didn't fit into the categories of depression or anxiety. Some people find the diagnosis of BPD scary or isolating, since it's a complex illness with a range of symtoms and a name which doesn't describe it very well. I found it reassuring: I have an illness which makes it difficult to control my emotions and makes me react strongly to events I can't control.


The Lagoon

BPD is hard to live with, but I understand more about the way I am and can be more compassionate towards myself. I was disappointed that dropping 10 marks on my average in the last year of my BA meant I got a 2:1, whereas I'd averaged a 1:1 for the 1st and 2nd years. However, I am learning to accept that it's a great result considering the challenges I faced. Especially as I stubbornly refused even a deadline extension: I had learnt that real life doesn't give concessions and I wanted to succeed on my own terms.

I got a Distinction for both my OU courses and received my diploma last year - just before starting the MA. I hope to hit a Merit (there's little hope of Distinction with the grades I've already got) and that's fine.  I took some risks with my assignments, some of which didn't pay off, and I'm glad I pushed myself.

Doing the MA has taught me so much about my craft and about myself. It's been worth it, even if I fail - though I hope I don't! Writing is a learning process anyway and grades don't determine success: stories do.


The Waterfall

Which brings me full circle back to Stina's post about passion. I will hand in my dissertation at the end of August and that's the MA done. For the first time in 5 years, I will be left with no course to do and no plans other than 'work on writing and try to get published'.

I'm terrified. I look forward to spending more time on hobbies I've neglected, such as drawing, painting, baking, yoga, improving my French and learning Italian. It will be great to relax a little, without a looming deadline. I hope to manage my BPD and improve enough to get a job and pay off my credit card and overdraft quicker. But it's all so uncertain.

One thing I must cling to is the shard of hope I've been clutching since I booked my trip to Valencia. I still find living very difficult, but there are days when I can sit back and realise I'm passionate about life. There have been moments of joy among the pain and all I can do is keep trying, keep hoping the future will bring me happiness.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Man is Not a Machine!

Regular readers will be familiar with my constant battle between feeling lazy when I'm not writing a lot and recognising that much of writing is done through thinking - both consciously and subconsciously. So when I recently came across a magazine article on Be Excellent at Anything: Four Changes to Get More out of Work and Life by Tony Schwartz, Catherine McCarthy and Jean Gomes, I found one of the key concepts very appealing. The concept? That humans are not machines or computers; working a machine harder and for longer produces an increase in results, but not so for humans. Humans become exhausted and the quality of their work suffers - results decline.

So when I saw a copy of the book while browsing in WH Smith last week, I bought it. Note: I haven't read the whole book yet, so this post focuses on what I've learnt so far...

Humans don't run on electricity - they need periods of renewal.

Not only does this mean getting enough sleep at night, but taking time out during the day to meditate, nap, exercise, etc. Unfortunately, capitalism has led to people being treated as machines in many jobs (the few years I spent on a supermarket checkout springs to mind...), so it's difficult to implement if you have to work rigid hours with scheduled breaks. Fortunately, most writers make their own hours and can ensure that they take time out for re-energising activities.

90 minutes is the maximum amount of time that humans can focus on working hard without the quality of their work decreasing.

Remember teachers advising you to plan breaks when making revision timetables? This is the reason. If you keep concentrating for longer than 90 minutes, you will feel exhausted and your work will suffer. Mistakes will creep in. However, if you stop and re-energise by taking a power nap, grabbing a nutritious meal and/or going for a walk, you will be ready for another period of intense work.

So taking time 'out' during your working day actually increases the quality of your work.

And quantity, if you measure this in anything other than time. You don't need to feel guilty! I suppose I instinctively knew this already, but it's great to see confirmation. The book refers to many scientific studies demonstrating its points, to which I responded with many an 'a-ha!'. It also explains why I can sit at the computer for hours, stuck on part of a story, only to find the solution as soon as I hop in the shower!

So there you have it: if you can take the time to re-energise during your working day (without getting fired), you should. And this advice is particularly relevant for writers, since the nature of writing seems to necessitate intense periods of thinking/getting words on paper or screen, broken up with time to ponder/muse/watch the daisies grow.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

5 Books to Revamp Your Writing

Since my writing seems to be going well this week, I thought I'd share the books that motivate me and help me get back on track when things aren't going so well.

1. The Write Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing by Bonnie Neubauer
This is the closest you can get to an inspiration pill! The book is designed so that you can write inside as you work through the exercises, though I prefer to use my notebook (jotting down the page number for quick reference). It looks fun - colourful and full of pictures. As soon as I got it, I wanted to use it! If you're stuck for ideas, or just want to boost your creativity, this is the book for you.

2. Write Short Stories and Get Them Published (Teach Yourself series) by Zoe Fairbairns
At first glance, this looks like a typical 'beginners' guide' providing basic advice - not so. The explanations of every aspect of short story writing are simple and easy to follow, but comprehensive. Experienced writers will discover more than a checklist reminding them of what they already know. Every section is full of ideas, exercises and reading recommendations. Fairbairns encourages readers to experiment and not get hung up on the scary prospect of writing 'a story' - thinking about your craft is all very well, but it's essential to (in the words of a prominent sports brand) just do it.

3. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose
This is a classic. It's the only one of these books on my Creative Writing MA reading list and it's easy to see why. Prose teaches readers to pay attention to every single word - and how the writer has arranged them. You learn how to consider the choices the writer has made and the effects of these decisions. I suspect the majority of writers are thinking 'I already do that' but I'd still recommend the book for its range and intensity. It's a rare person who won't learn something useful and inspirational from reading this book.

4. Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story (Salt Publishing guides) edited by Vanessa Gebbie
This is aimed at writers who are serious and passionate about the short story. It contains a range of essays by short story writers, all of which are inspiring and informative. It encourages its readers to explore the potential of the short story and appraoch writing short stories from different angles. I find it extremely motivating; not least because it reminds me that I'm not alone in wanting to write short stories for their own sake and there are other writers who are in love with the form.

5. The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell
I love this book. Not only does it offer strategies for systematically editing both macro and micro elements of your work, but it acknowledges that editing can be part of the artistic process. In practical terms, the development of the publishing industry over the past few decades means that, more often than not, writers are expected to edit their own work. The most they can expect is a cursory spelling, grammar and punctuation check. Bell shows how the legendary editors of writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald worked and gives readers great advice on how to implement these skills. It's indispensable.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

I Ain't Got No Rhythm!

Are you regular - with regard to writing, that is - or do your stories progress with little rhyme or reason?

My prevailing mood of the week is... *drum roll* ...frustration. I can't seem to get into 'proper writing' mode, i.e. producing stuff that makes sense or editing stuff so that it makes sense. I have produced pages of freewriting, but the words refuse to assemble into stories.

I've been thinking about my last post, where I mention that Ray Bradbury set out writing a story a week. The way Bradbury describes it, this sounds like a mechanical method of writing that always produces a story a week. I'm envious: my writing is far more erratic.

Some weeks I seem to go into overdrive, producing drafts and editing and completing/polishing stories. Other weeks, I seem stuck. Guess which occurs more frequently?

The logical part of my brain says 'relax - it all averages out in the end' but my impulse is to panic. All I can do is keep trying and hang in there. Meanwhile, I'll enjoy the glorious Devon sunshine!


 

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Does Quantity Result In Quality?

I read Zen in the Art of Writing this week, in which Ray Bradbury says his strategy as a young writer was to write a story every week. He believes that quality will emerge from quantity. This got me thinking...

There's no denying that practice makes perfect. But is 'practice' the same as 'quantity'?

I think 'practice' implies effort; striving to improve. It has connotations of gaining the knowledge and skills that enable improvement. For me, 'quantity' lacks these connotations: it suggests mass production with little attention to what is produced.

Examining my own work, there's no doubt that my earliest stories are much, much worse than the recent ones. However, the most dramatic improvements in my writing occur at times when I'm consciously trying to improve every element. It might be when I'm engaged with a particular author's work or writing manual, or during a writing course. It's no coincidence that the stories I've written as assignments are generally better than what has gone before.

So what do these stories have in common? I've pushed myself.

When you know you're going to get either validation (i.e. a good mark) or humiliation (i.e. 0% and a comment along the lines of 'I can't believe you wasted my time with this crap'), you realise taking risks can pay off.

A good teacher can also pinpoint the parts that don't work so well, which is invaluable and often hard to discern in your own work. Their critique will offer both encouragement and suggestions for improvement. Your story won't be hanging in limbo because you don't know whether the risks you've taken have resulted in something brilliant or terrible.

Of course, this is just an excuse.

Thanks to the internet and good friends, I know I can get any kind of critique I desire. I could shell out for a professional critique, if I was that bothered. The truth is, there is no excuse for not taking risks.


Thinking about the issue of quantity vs quality has resulted in some mini-epiphanies:

1. The effort you put into writing and improving your craft results in better writing. Even when it doesn't feel like you're improving.

2. Taking risks and pushing boundaries pays off. You might learn what doesn't work more often than what does, but it's just as valuable.

3. Writing more, (assuming a basic level of awareness of what/how you're writing - and how is it possible not to have this?), produces better writing. It might be such a gradual improvement that you fail to see it in your day to day life, but it's still progress.

I find this inspiring. And kind of annoying, since it proves what we knew all along: there are no excuses - all you have to do is write

(Which means it's time for me to quit writing this blog and work on my dissertation stories...)

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

So Much To Read... So Little Time...

The mayhem is (temporarily) over: I have submitted my assignments for my taught modules and shall now be focusing on writing my MA dissertation. The dissertation consists of 15,000 words of fiction, plus a 5,000 word contextualising essay, with 10% leeway in word count. I'll be writing Gothic short stories linked by the theme of identity/self-perception.

Most of my short stories tend to be 2500-3000 words; it seems to be my natural groove. When I try to write shorter stories, they often come across as rushed or over-orchestrated. It depends on the story/subject, of course, but I expect my dissertation to consist of 6 or so stories.

The Problem:
I know nothing about Gothic fiction!

Okay, that's a lie. The truth is, I've read a lot of Gothic fiction and fiction with Gothic elements. But compared to the range of Gothic fiction that exists, I know nothing. My reflex ,when I feel like this, is to read - so I have a huge pile of books and am now anxious about not having the time to read them all!

So now I'm wasting time worrying that I don't have enough time!

Yup, I'm mad. But also, I've found that procrastinating is usually a symptom of lacking confidence - for me, anyway. So the real problem is the usual, banal, utterly boring one:

I'm afraid my writing won't be good enough.

Ugh. I hate that. I hate being an anxious mess, I hate doubting myself and I hate the fact that the only possible response to this problem is to write.

All I can do is write a lot (and make sure I read enough). Keep writing, keep rewriting and hope I can either be confident about my writing, or be content with not being confident and keep writing anyway. So screw that big pile of books - I need to concentrate on producing a big pile of stories!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

I Haven't Been Abducted by Aliens!

Neither have I been participating in a reality TV show, whisked off on an exotic holiday nor locked in a dungeon. The reason for my not posting is banal: I was working on assignments.

I had 2 essays, a 6000 word story and 30 page screenplay extract to get done. I was pretty well organised, but still managed to get incredibly stressed. For the past few weeks, the assignments have been foremost in my mind and when I went to my friends' house on Saturday, not having a draft next to me felt like an amputation.

Anyhoo, I handed the assignments in yesterday and am trying not to obsess over whether they are good enough. I feel strange: exhausted, slightly hyper and empty. I suppose I'm also relieved, but it's not one of my foremost feelings.

I don't know what to do with myself - not in an 'I'm bored and have nothing to do' way, since I have several bits and pieces on my To-Do List and loads of dissertation work to be getting on with - but in an 'I don't have an immediate deadline and having nothing to stress over feels weird' kind of way.

I'm trying to relax for at least a few days; reading books not directly related to my MA, baking, chilling out in front of the TV, watching some DVDs, wasting time on internet games, freaking out my dog by cutting her claws... I hope I start to feel more normal soon, whatever 'normal' is!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Messiness! Accessing my Imagination.

I'm afraid of being messy. Not so much in general, though I have recently decluttered and found homes for all my books. No, I'm afraid of producing messy first drafts.

I want to write messy drafts. I want to let my imagination run free and produce possibilities that would never emerge if I had a precise plan. However, the perfectionist part of me is afraid of not having a plan and afraid of giving my imagination freedom. Sure, she'll let me insert the odd crazy idea, but not a whole draft that spreads out and splatters characters everywhere.

My best work seems to develop when I'm not thinking through every sentence as soon as I write it. Impromptu exercises often spark more ideas than hours of agonising. Freewriting produces gems amongst the drivel. However, these methods can be difficult to get into; I have trouble letting go of the perfectionist who whines 'wouldn't this time be better spent on actually writing stories?'


So how do I access this messy tangle of thoughts?

1. Get into a character's head.
Or several characters' heads. I find this quite easy - I'm not sure why - and being in someone else's head means my perfectionist isn't allowed to pop up. I just freewrite whatever's on the character's mind and something interesting usually pops up. If not, I move onto the next character.

2. Form a 'play chain'.
I let my imagination run free when I was a kid, especially when playing. Nothing was an obstacle, because I could just pretend. A 'play chain' is that list of possibilities quickly succeeding each other that crops up when kids play: 'this box is a ship... in the middle of a storm... on Mars... and there's a hole in the bottom...'

It builds up like a tidal wave until it becomes something exciting for everyone involved. As an adult, I form 'play chains' simply by thinking up possibilities and refusing to discard any. Then I consider what opportunities are presented by these possibilities, and so on.

3. Pick n mix.
Not the sweets - though I find them hard to resist! Pick n mix is simply writing loads of stuff on little bits of paper and picking some out. There are hundreds (if not more) versions of this exercise, with varying rules. For instance, some say you have to choose a profession (doctor/lawyer/teacher/dog trainer), a setting (churchyard/shop/beach/airport) and  type of interaction (argument/stealing from someone/helping someone/flirting).

I prefer an unstructured approach because fewer rules can result in more possibilities. I write anything that pops into my head - pieces of furniture, types of food, personality traits, emotions, ages, historical periods, types of transport, names, passionate actions (kiss/slap/protest), genres... Whatever. I pick out at least 3, usually around 5. Then I have to come up with an idea to combine them - however ridiculous, my job is to make it work. If the results are too banal and generic, I pick a couple more pieces of paper.

In many ways, it's a puzzle: I have to form the linking idea/plot and then I have to turn it into a believable story. Even when I fail, this exercise encourages me to explore more possibilities. Maybe I can't combine a prostitute, a cheerleader, a desert and a chocolate bar. But thinking about it might result in a story about how a cheerleader copes when a holiday goes wrong and she gets lost in the desert, or a prostitute who accepts chocolate as payment!


How do you let your imagination run free and produce messy drafts full of fun and promise?

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Sunshine Award!

Thanks to Joanne Fox (well, actually Harvey!) at A Zigzag Road for tagging me and topping up my sunshiney springtime mood despite the rain. I now have to tell you what makes me happy, so here goes...


1. Roxie, my English Springer Spaniel. She'll be 9 in September, I got her as a 6 week old puppy (weaned early because she's one of 10!) and I love her more than ever. She's the sweetest dog I've ever met and loves cuddles. She regularly gets beaten up by the cat and when she was a puppy, ate many things off people's plates when they weren't looking (and often when they were - she's quick) - including the tops of sandwichs, a slice of pizza and a chocolate eclair.


2. Chocolate. Do I really have to explain this?! I love a variety of chocolates, from Hotel Chocolate champagne truffles and kirsch-soaked cherries, to Cadbury's fruit and nut, to the vanilla yumminess of Green and Black's white chocolate... I could go on, but it's making me hungry!


3. My friends. Especially on girly nights when we eat, drink and chatter for hours! They're very supportive and encouraging, but also great fun and hilarious. I don't know what I'd do without them.


4. Shoes! A bit of an obsession, I'm afraid. I have a penchant for designer shoes, despite not really being able to afford them, and can spend hours drooling over websites that sell them. I bought my first pair after a £50 pair of shoes were ruined after just a day's wear at a wedding.

I figured that wearing a £350 pair at least 7 times would work out costing the same, only designer shoes tend to be much better made and ought to last for years. Several years after that first purchase, I still believe I'm right and find designer shoes more comfortable than cheaper ones. Of course, I can only afford one pair a year at the most, so I have a very small collection.

Previously, I would buy loads of shoes in a year so it's also saving me space! See how I make excuses? I don't know why I feel I have to apologise: other people spend lots on technology, jewellery, going out, holidays, etc. and I prefer shoes. I love the way they look, feel and even smell. I plan outfits around them. I fantasise about designing them myself and having a collection that would make Imelda Marcos's look modest. Maybe it's becoming a fetish...


5. Baking. I'm a bit of a foodie, though I'd never consider working in the industry (too stressful!), and love making cakes more than anything else. I also love seeing people eating the cakes and enjoying them. Oh, and eating them myself!


6. Books. Not just reading - I love looking at them, feeling them, smelling them... Maybe I also have a book fetish! I've always considered books magical and a vital part of my life. I've kept all of my favourite books from my childhood and love to share my love of reading with people. My friends have a 4 month old baby girl and I've already elected myself as her Champion of Books!


7. Film. I graduated with a BA in Film Studies last year and love both films themselves and film theory/criticism. There's something magical about film and its potential to bring people together. I love its richness: the combination of story, sound, mise-en-scene, costume, framing, lighting, editing... The sheer amount of work that goes into a film is incredible. Like good books, good films reveal more layers during subsequent viewings and allow you to engage with them in different ways.

I don't like typical Hollywood blockbusters. I love it when special effects enhance a story, as in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but have little time for films whose main appeal is big explosions in 3D. I like a lot of older films, such as screwball comedies from the 1930s and 40s; plenty of indie dramas; slasher horrors; original romantic comedies; good thrillers, especially Hitchcock ones; a lot of French New Wave Cinema; Woody Allen comedies... I suppose my tastes are eclectic, but I judge films on whether I think they're good as opposed to whether they're a certain genre or feature a particular actor.


I could go on, but 7 is a good number and I'm sure what I've written has already sent some people to sleep! I don't have time to check who has already been tagged, so I won't tag anyone but invite you to tag yourself in a comment if you fancy a go. Just copy and paste the pic, then tell me what makes you happy!



Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A Springy Feeling!

I love spring. Mainly because I adore summer and spring reminds me summer is on its way! As I said in my last post, I'm trying to adopt a more relaxed approach to writing (and life). In keeping with this, I spent much of last week sunbathing and reading in the garden.

I also seem to be in the mood for spring cleaning. I suppose now I've finished seminars, it's natural to not only file away all my notes, but to take stock and tidy up. This involved me reorganising my books yesterday, so I could put away recently-acquired books. I disturbed an astonishing amount of dust. I berated myself for having so many books and made a half-hearted resolution to buy no more until I've read all of the books I own. I also realised that if Devon is ever struck by an earthquake strong enough to shake books off shelves, I could be in trouble. The next phase is sorting out my vast piles of magazines...

The biggest surprise, however, is I'm making good progress with my writing. Nothing dramatic, but the ideas are flowing and I keep working on my WIPs. Obviously, I hoped this would happen. I'm just surprised to be progressing without pressuring myself with mini-deadlines.

So I'm enjoying the clement (though cooler than last week) weather and the young birds squabbling on the roof. I'm enjoying reading whatever takes my fancy. And I'm enjoying feeling relatively relaxed and productive :-)

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Taking a Break - from Stress, Not Writing!

I had my last MA seminar yesterday; I have just over a month to complete the assignments for this term's two modules, then I will do my dissertation over summer. It's gone terribly fast! It's also left me feeling exhausted.

I think it's important to relax a little now - being stressed 24/7 does neither me nor my writing any favour. I'm still working, but I'm not pressuring myself to meet any deadlines (other than my assignment deadline of 2nd May). I tend to work well under pressure, but it's hard to stop pressure from overboiling and resulting in a mess!

I'm interested to see what effect this will have on my writing - it's an experiment I've never tried before. I'm just going to follow my nose, working on my current projects and exploring new ideas. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Cultivating Stories

I finally submitted my dissertation proposal (thank you everyone for the supportive comments on my last post) and am now back to focusing on writing short stories. Work is slow. Very slow.

However, I have a couple of ideas that I'm cultivating. They're just germs or grains of sand at the moment, but I hope they will gather material and develop into flowers/pearls - pick your favourite metaphor! It's difficult to acknowledge progress when my writing is going slowly, but I'm excited about these ideas and they interest me a lot.

So far, each idea has acquired a couple of characters. I haven't worked anything out in great detail, but I'm curious and want to get to know all of these characters. That's a good sign, right?

I'm often convinced that nobody but me will ever find my writing interesting/entertaining/thought-provoking. I like writing the kind of stories I like to read and know other people like those kinds of stories, but I've no idea whether mine will ever measure up. I keep working in hope, as opposed to having faith that people will like my work.

So I will keep going. I will work on those two ideas and let them develop. I wish progress was faster/better, but nothing worth having is ever easy, right?

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Confidence Crisis

I've been going through a tough time recently and it's affecting my writing. A month ago, I was writing lots and producing what appeared to be half-decent short stories. Now, I'm struggling. I do simple writing exercises and I hate what I write so much that I can't continue. My mind seems to solidify.

Having to write a dissertation proposal doesn't help. I want to write a set of Gothic short stories with a linking theme of identity. I'm excited about having the opportunity to spend summer doing this, but I don't feel 100% confident. One day it seems like a good idea; the next, I think I'm an idiot to contemplate it and I should think of something else. Then I have to accept the idea's not the problem: I am.

I'm going to feel the same no matter what I pick, so I'm going ahead with my idea. Now I'm trying to put it into words, but they all come in a jumble and I worry that I can't explain myself very well. The only thing keeping me going is I need to email it by the end of this week. No matter how stupid I/my idea sound, I've got to keep going.

I just hope some confidence comes later.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Writing By Numbers...

Last week, I mentioned my 'writing detox' which was my attempt to clear my head so I could focus on a 2000 word story to hand in tomorrow as a formative assignment. Progress on the story was slow and painful. I spent hours freewriting around the idea and until two days ago, it was a jumble of clumsy vignettes.

However, this mess of a first draft gave me a foundation. I could work out what scenes were needed and where - although this was a gradual process done over several drafts. I felt like I was 'writing by numbers', filling in the gaps and using very little creativity. It was hard work, but it got the job done.

I think this demonstrates how much you can achieve when you *have* to, i.e. if you have a deadline. However, it also shows that some stories are slow-burners and need to be worked on a lot before they show their potential and form a coherent narrative.

Would I have abandoned the story if I didn't have a deadline? I don't know - but I would have been tempted. I probably would have put it to one side for a few weeks (or months...) until I'd thought it over and worked out some of the problems.

Would putting the story aside have been better than working relentlessly on the story for a week?

It's too intensive to do every week, but finishing a difficult story provides a lot of satisfaction. I should point out that if I had put it to one side, I would actively work on other stories. Maybe it's a strategy writers should use every so often, regardless of whether they have a deadline.

If there's a project that's been stumping you for a while, ponder over it and write around your characters - your messy collection of ideas may blossom into a good story!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Q&A Tag!

Donna Hole has tagged me - my first tag ever, as far as I'm aware - so here are my answers to her questions!


Who is your favorite fictional character, and why?
Scarlett O'Hara. She's intelligent, hilarious, terrible, maddening, obstinate, selfish, charming, compassionate, strong, feisty, manipulative... She's never boring! Like Gone With The Wind, she's full of faults but fascinating. She drives the narrative and never loses her ability to surprise - she's remarkably complex but has an inner core of traits and values that remain constant. Despite being an extreme, melodramatic character in many ways, she's also realistic and never loses her humanity.

How do you come up with the names for your own characters?
I use names I've come across in life/media. I also have a baby name book I bought for £1, which helps me if I ever run out of ideas. I just pick a name that seems to fit the character - their personality, class, ethnic background, age, etc.

What book would you pass up, even if it was offered for free?
Anything 'written by' Katie Price. If you're wondering 'who?' you're lucky - don't google her, cos it will make you hate the world!

Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what is on your playlist?
Occasionally. I usually have TV on in the background (The Wright Stuff and This Morning) or, in the afternoon, silence. I might put on Classic FM or one of my CDs though. I love The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Blondie, Amy Winehouse, Bob Dylan, Snow Patrol, Dolly Parton, The Kinks, various rock n roll songs from the 50s and 60s...

Do you have to make time to write, or have a set schedule; and do you have any writing quirks?
I can never stick to a schedule; I just plonk myself in front of the computer all day and try to write, but end up wasting time playing games and looking up random stuff on the internet... This is partly due to my mental health problems: I have Borderline Personality Disorder with Depression and Anxiety. It means that my mood varies greatly and I have little control over whether I'm in the right state of mind to write. It also affects my concentration.

I have to grab my opportunity when it comes, so write pretty much any time of the day (or night). I often am most productive from 11pm to 2am, which is annoying because it exacerbates my insomnia: I sleep best when I stick to a routine and am in bed by 11pm, even if I lie awake for hours most nights. Sticking to deadlines can be tricky, but I usually know about deadlines for my MA course and writing competitions far in advance, so work around how I'm feeling.

Who is your dream agent/publisher?
I would love to be published by Virago. I have such respect and admiration for their ethos and authors/titles.

Do you prefer printed books or ebooks?
Printed! Part of the pleasure of reading, for me anyway, is the texture and smell of paper. I love the 'aura' of books, whether they're old or new. I wouldn't rule out reading e-books, but the majority of my reading material will always be printed. For this reason, my bedroom resembles a library with a bed and a wardrobe shoved into it!

What is the weirdest dare you ever accepted?
I've no idea... My two best friends and I dared ourselves to go to a nightclub called Kools in the town one of them has moved to, which was kinda dodgy. We're in our late 20s and the rest of the clientele were either teenagers or 40+... We had fun, but that was down to each other and the alcohol!

Monday, 27 February 2012

Writing Detox! AKA Clearing my Desk and my Head.

I've been rather productive lately, which is good but bewildering. However, I have to submit a 2000 word story next Wednesday, as a formative assignment for my MA course, and it's not going well... I know my plot, my characters, my setting and my theme. When I come to actually writing the story... Nothing.

Do I have too many projects on the go? I asked myself. I had 2 stories that needed redrafting and polishing, plus one that needed a little more work. I decided to have a writing detox and finished the 2 stories that were nearly done. Still couldn't write anything but a half-decent opening paragraph followed by a page of crap.

I worked on the story needing more work and managed to find solutions that had hitherto eluded me. I finished that story. I've even entered all three in competitions, so I don't have to think about them for a long time.

And I'm still having trouble!

I do feel better for being able to focus on a single story, but the clear headspace and decrease in bits of paper fluttering around has not resulted in progress on my assignment story. I'm doing a lot of freewriting around my story and characters, which I hope will soon yield fruit.

I'm only a couple of days into my writing detox - I'll see how it goes!