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!