Archive for May, 2010

With every story I write, there is an inevitable period of utter misery involved.

I hammer out the first draft, cheerfully accepting that it’s going to be terrible, but trying to retain the essence of my original idea in the word jumble which I’m projectile-vomiting onto the computer screen. Ideally, after that, I leave the story alone for a couple of days or longer so I can step back from it.

Then the trouble starts.

Maybe I re-read the first draft, maybe I don’t quite get there. Either way, somewhere at this point, something switches in my brain.

I procrastinate endlessly, wasting entire evenings on the internet. Then I get angry with myself for wasting my time.

“How can I ever be a proper writer if I can’t sit down and actually write? I’m dooooommmmeeeeddd,” I wail, stamping around the house and slumping onto furniture with my head in my hands. Occasionally I slide to the floor and lie on my back, staring at the ceiling in the vain hope that this will give me a fresh perspective and the motivation to start again.

“I hate myself. I’m useless,” I howl. “I might as well just give up now.”

Those nights are lost causes.

I ride them through, teeth gritted against the misery. Then, suddenly, I break through the pain barrier.

I tentatively begin to restructure and edit the draft, word by word, line by line. I spend three hours on one paragraph, questioning every word and bending the spine of my thesaurus as I pore over the incomprehensible sections, desperately trying to find a better way of saying “all at once”. (NB. Still haven’t. Any suggestions before I post my final assignment tomorrow?)

I try to suspend an entire sentence in my mind, switching the word order over and over, mumbling it out loud to see which sounds best. I comment all over the draft and highlight awkward phrases. Then I go back to the beginning and address the comments one by one, deleting them when I think I’ve dealt with their issues.

I slowly forget how miserable I was a couple of days before, and I realise how much I love writing. I forget that I questioned myself, and forget that I considered giving up writing forever (due to being doomed, remember?).

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My plan for June, July and August, aside from reading as many books as I can cram into my free time and writing lots, is to send some stories out into the world for the first time.

Stemming from A215, I will have three stories which are almost submittable, in my opinion, and this is reflected in the marks given to me by my tutor. So I plan to submit them to one place at a time, and keep a record of where I’ve submitted and when I expect to get a response.

Thinking out loud (as I haven’t researched this with specific stories in mind yet, aside from my TMA05 story), I would prefer to send off to print publications, as seeing my writing in physical print strikes me as more satisfying and exciting than online.

Similarly, I might look at some competitions, but I’d probably prefer conventional publication if it’s achievable. I might like to aim some new stories at specific competitions in the meantime, writing specially for them.

As well as this, I will be reading a book about writing film scripts, not because I want to write them, but because I suspect the advice is applicable to novel structure, and I would like to finish my chapter plan for a novel idea I had a few weeks ago. At the time, I felt that I didn’t have enough knowledge of novel structural conventions to complete the plan and begin writing, as the second draft would need significant structural reworking if I started too early.

I’m looking forward to my three months of commitment-less (except job-work, of course) writing before the MA starts, and I intend to take advantage of it as much as possible.

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All Change

I’ve got a place on the MSc in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh. It’s conditional on completing A215, and although I’m not counting chickens, we only have one assignment remaining before the end of the course.

So this week I told my boss at work that I am leaving at the end of August. I’ve spent the last few days discussing with Ed what we’re going to do about houses, furniture, etc. And I’ve told a few friends here in Birmingham that I’m leaving.

I’m very, very excited and also rather terrified. Some might say that quitting a relatively secure, autonomous, reasonably well-paid job, with nice people and in a nice environment, in the middle of the biggest economic downturn of my lifetime, in order to spend one year studying (self-funded) a subject with little to no further employment prospects…. is a little bit silly.

Well, yes.

But I say that I’m 23 years old, I’ve finally found something which makes my heart sing when I think and talk about it, and if I didn’t do this I’d regret it a lot. (alot)

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Like a lot of people, I really enjoy a good cry at a film or book. Sit me in front of The Railway Children, and I’m a quivering mess before the VHS counter (yes, I still have a video machine) says 00.06mins. I have to arrange to watch it – alone -, ensuring that nothing is scheduled for the full hour after the film finishes, because I cry so much in the final scene (“Daddy, my Daddy!”) that my face goes so puffy and red that I look actually ill.

But one thing which I have noticed in the past couple of months is that, when I cry at films (and TV programmes, and books…), it’s no longer as cathartic and comforting as it once was.

Where once I would welcome the tears, and heave a sigh of release as the credits roll, now I find myself still crying after the film has ended.

I watched Robert DeNiro in Everybody’s Fine last weekend, and spent the entire film saying “I hate this film. I really hate it.” And crying – genuinely crying – at the unfairness of it all.

A couple of months ago, Channel 4 broadcast a programme called Confessions of a Traffic Warden. Sounds terrible, I know, but it was an absolutely fantastic documentary about racism and prejudice in London, and about the image the UK presents to people from other countries (before they arrive, and after). Ask me to say more about the poor man who moved to Britain believing everyone was nice and kind and refined, only to become a traffic warden…. and I can’t say any more. I would actually start crying. I was inconsolable.

So I still enjoy a good cry, but mainly when happy things happen (see above: The Railway Children). Sad things just make me sad, in real life.

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I’ve got 2000 words of TMA5 written down. It’s far from finished, and will get to at least 3000 before I consider the first draft complete. That’s how I work: I write the ‘vomit draft’, which contains as much material as possible (and a lot of repetition), and then I cut it so that the final draft is the bare bones of the story: saying as much as I can with as little words as possible.

I am worried about this story so far, though.

It’s about a girl who wakes up in the middle of the night, and certain decisions she makes about her life while in that half-awake difficult state when you can’t sleep. She writes a letter, and packs a bag.

A potential problem with this, however, is that there is not much action and little dialogue. I’m worried that a story can’t function and engage a reader without these things. I may have to add something (maybe a flashback?)…. it just seems a shame. She’s an interesting character: selfish and self-absorbed, and that’s why I’d like to write this story. I’m worried it just won’t work.

What does everyone think?

And, another potential problem: is it a little silly to write a story when the main character is unlikable? I know it’s been done to great effect by many famous authors, but they can get away with it because they did it well. It may not work so well coming from an amateur.

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