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...