Archive for the ‘Course Activity’ Category

Downhill from here

Today, instead of beginning work on Chapter Whatever-it-is in the BRB, I went for lunch with my mum, who was visiting Birmingham for the day. We battled through the Birmingham shoppers, along with the 27,000 disappointed teenagers. Birmingham was awful.

Despite my predilection to walk into a shop, look around, see too many people in my way and promptly turn on my heel and exit the store empty-handed (and grumpy-faced), I managed to buy quite a lot of new clothes.

Normal women moan into their mocha-latte-cappuchino-frappe-chai-thingies “why oh why have I bought more clothes? This is terrible!”. Not me. Buying new clothes is a veritable achievement for me. Honest!

I HATE clothes shopping with a passion, to the extent that I buy things on the internet and often have to return them, but I don’t mind the non-refundable postage and packaging costs, as that is the tax I pay for the priviledge of not having to forcibly push my way past busty women in the car boot sale they call TK Maxx.

But I do like having nice clothes. Every few months I realise that everything I used to love has become frayed, bobbly or faded and the mounting doom tells me that I might need to go and mingle with the consumers. Yeuck.

The only snag is, now I need some new boots to go with my new skirt. Siiiigggghh…

Oh yeah, TMA result came back at 1030pm Friday night.  At first I was very very pleased, but then I realised… things can only go downhill from here.

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In All Weathers

I write this from my sickbed.

MSN conversation yesterday:

Me: I’m ill. It’s just a cold, but I kind of wish it was flu because I’d have an excuse to be in bed and not at work.

Him: That’s the worst because you feel awful but still have to do everything like usual.

Me: Exactly!

Luckily (or unluckily) my cold escalated after work and I only slept for about 2 hours, so I felt completely justified (and completely rough, I must stress) in having the day off work. As it happened, I was supposed to be travelling to Bath for a meeting, so when my lift turned up at 7am this morning I handed over the printouts and hobbled back to bed for some sleep.

Two loads of laundry, two chapters of Zoe Heller’s The Believers, one episode of The Forsyte Saga and two more hours of sleep later (and it’s still only noon, bonus!), and I think it might be time to think about catching up on some Chapter 6 exercises for A215.

I’m currently thinking about Activity 6.2:

Invent a character who visits a place of historical interest, one with a strong atmosphere of grief or light-heartedness or positive endeavour, for example a site of war graves, a museum of childhood, the former home of a writer. Or choose your own place.

  • Write a 250 word version in which your character feels unwell and is worried about what the symptoms may mean.
  • Write a second version in which the same character has just purchased a ‘dream’ house. Again use up to 250 words.

I got a bit stuck with this the first time I read it, as the second bullet point’s ‘dream’ house seemed a bit of a non-starter. It’s good to challenge yourself though, so off I go!

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People have been posting a lot of Activities on the A215 Cafe forum. This is great, as giving feedback is helpful and I think contributes directly to why most of the people doing A215 are here. A lot of people (me included) have very quiet Tutor Group forums, so it’s helpful.

However, particularly with this week’s chapter (Character Development), I can’t help but feel people may have been missing the point slightly.

The Activities mainly involve creating and developing a character, which is a great exercise – really important. The problem is that a trend has developed on the forum: everything seems to need to be faultlessly written as a passage of prose fiction.

So instead of this style of activity:

“He has brown hair and a small mole above his eye. When he’s nervous he sometimes covers it with his hand, a legacy of some cruelty from his school days.”

People are writing things like:

“He glanced up at the mantlepiece and ran his hand through his thinning hair, wondering why she’d left him.”

These are both valid ways of writing, but I don’t think the second example directly engages with these particular activities. Unfortunately, I guess because people are influencing each other, the latter example is now the norm.

The critiques for these exercises also reflect the current posting trends, which I also think may be unhelpful.

This kind of critique would be helpful:

“I love the character you’ve created – she’s well-rounded and believable. I wonder if you’ve questioned why she seems uncomfortable in her own skin – what might have caused that?”

For character development exercises, this kind of critique is not:

“I enjoyed reading this and would like to know what happens next. The first sentence doesn’t draw me in enough – perhaps you should change the wording of the second half, maybe substitute “called” for “shouted”.

Because of these reasons, I haven’t felt able to share my activities for Chapter 5 on the forum – I fear that the wrong aspects of my activities (the language, structure and wording) will be critiqued, when the important focus should be the development of a character for use in later writing.

I’d love to know what others think… but I don’t know whether my opinions on this would go down very well on the forums. Any opinions?

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Morning Pages Revisited

I’m still writing morning pages.

Not every day, but most days. Although it’s an OK exercise, they don’t seem to be developing; in fact, they seem to be degenerating in their quality. Now I write about interesting things which happened the previous day, plans for the day ahead, and any strange dreams I had. They’re almost like a micro-diary. I can’t seem to tap into that subconscious rambling which I felt I was subtly detecting when I started doing them.

On the other hand, when I re-read previous entries they do seem more interesting in retrospect than when I am writing them. And there are still aspects of them which I don’t remember writing at the time.

28th Oct

Running after T, but the faster I try to run, the heavier and slower are my steps. I push so hard, and even try running backwards, just to catch up and spend some time with him. It doesn’t work. I catch his eye. They’re blue. Holds my gaze just slightly longer than normal. In that moment I am certain but as soon as he breaks the look I realise it wasn’t him, but an older, mottled version of him who held my gaze. Does he know I would walk for extra miles just to talk longer?

29th Oct

That fleeting feeling, fleeting but it sometimes lasts all day – of a dream – when the emotions you felt in that dream permeate your real life. It seems only to apply (for me, at least) to bad dreams. For at least the first hour of waking I get this ‘something awful has happened’ feeling. It gradually fades.

Nov 1st

Ed is making coffee and the rain is battering against the windows. It’s very windy. It’s Sunday. Need to catch up with OU work today. Feel very groggy.

The other day I was riding my bike past a bird singing in the dark. ‘How lovely’, I thought to myself. But then I realised it was a spinning extractor fan. Sad.

Meeting TB at 4pm today. Kinda hope he pulls out so I have more time to work. Ah well. Skin is cold but insides feel warm. Have brought out the bright light to ward off winter blues. Hope it works.

So you can see what I mean – it’s mainly circumstantial thoughts, but perhaps once every two days maybe an interesting image appears. Today it was the bird singing into the dark night, which turned out to be an extractor fan.

Has anybody else had interesting experiences with morning pages?

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Morning Pages

A few times over the past couple of weeks I have remembered to write Morning Pages.

(For those of you who might not know what these are, it’s a suggestion for writing to harness your unconscious and train yourself into writing freely. You are meant to write as soon as you wake up, for as long as you can. You do this before you read anything or talk to anyone).

Before I go to sleep I carefully make sure my notebook and pen are within reaching distance of my bed. When my alarm goes off… well, about ten minutes later, really… I blearily grasp the pen and peer through the dusky morning at the pages of my notebook.

I often find myself writing about the dreams I’ve had – those I can remember. I don’t think it really matters what you write. It’s the habit which is important. I can’t say I’ve been miraculously inspired by what I’ve written, but the BRB does say you’re supposed to do this every day for three weeks before you notice any effect.

It doesn’t matter – I like writing down my dreams, and occasionally one springs into an idea for further writing. I also like the surreal ideas which emerge from my dreams, and it helps me to remember what my unconscious has created. All very positive.

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This is an A215 blog, right?

And A215 has now started.

So where are the posts? Where are your A215 ramblings?

I wish I knew! I must apologise for my absence over the past couple of weeks. I could say “I have no excuse”, and I will: I have no excuse.

Now I am going to inundate you with excuses.

Last weekend was the Birmingham Half Marathon, which greatly hindered my A215 work for a surprisingly large amount of time. With that over, work stepped deftly into my path, with two nights away for a huge meeting. I also strongly suspect that a little bit of my social life may have got in the way. Oops. Then this weekend I had the Day School (more on that later), and had to immediately hop onto a train up north for my sister’s birthday weekend.

I’m finally back home with all the best intentions of catching up with A215 work and getting my head around things properly. I’m behind with it already, but I fully intend on catching up properly, so I know it’ll be OK.

Here’s my list of things to do for the course:

  • Finish Week Two’s Activities
  • Read through Week Three and begin activities
  • Participate in Online Tutorial within my Tutor Group Forum
  • Start eTMA01 so I can set it aside for enough time before redrafting.
  • Continue Morning Pages and the occasional half-hearted haiku.

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A215 has officially started now.

I’ve read Chapter One of the BRB today and this week I will practice clusters  and freewriting for 20 minutes every day. I have the best intentions.

I loved freewriting, but I find clusters difficult, as I have a voice in the back of my mind saying ‘this is pointless and is doing no good’. I do think they will be useful if you hit a wall in the middle of a story, though, or for expanding themes when redrafting.

Other writing-related things I’m planning are:

  • Finish Stephen King’s On Writing. I started reading it yesterday and it’s very useful.
  • Make a second draft of the story I’m working on. I will do this once I’ve finished reading King’s book, as it seems to offer advice which will be helpful for my redraft.
  • Begin to think about eTMA01, which is due three weeks on Friday. Perhaps start working on something, as it’s not the end of the world if I end up with a couple of potential eTMAs to choose from.
  • Read some anonymous manuscripts and make constructive comments for Writers’ Group on Wednesday. (Don’t panic, OU people, this has nothing to do with A215).

Non writing-related plans include:

  • Closely monitoring knee in advance of the Birmingham Half Marathon on Sunday. Last Sunday I ran ten miles and aggravated an old injury, so I’m halting training to allow the knee to fix itself as much as possible before October 11th. Cripes… I’m worried that taking two weeks off training immediately before the half is a bad idea, but surely my fitness levels can’t plummet significantly, right? I will finish this race.
  • Cooking vegan-friendly meal for vegan friend on Tuesday. I’m thinking red lentil dahl.
  • Buy a ‘Congratulations on your engagement’ card for a friend. She’s 22 years old. Try not to write ‘Please don’t do this’ on the card.

Other things I am thinking about:

  • I have bought a book: Rediscover Grammar by David Crystal. They seem to have tried to make grammar seem fun by including ‘amusing’ cartoons throughout. If I ever open it, I’ll let you know whether it’s any good.
  • My computer is stubborn and refuses to load FirstClass. It’s definitely a problem with the computer itself, as FC operates properly on my work computer. I think my computer is missing some files, and refuses to download any Windows Updates. I’m currently weighing up two options: paying £35 for a complete service of a very old computer or buying a new one.
  • I’m thinking about trying to stop watching TV (except Coronation Street, which doesn’t count as ‘TV’, as it’s a Way of Life). It would mean I could do more reading and writing. I’m reluctant, though, because I do like to switch off my brain sometimes and TV is a good way of doing that.

Martini time.. 🙂

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I’ve just tried some Freewriting and it’s breathtaking. I love it.

I set a timer for five minutes, and used the prompts from p23 in the BRB. I found myself typing a lot of rubbish, typing the same word over and over until I took a thought and ran with it. And these thoughts blossomed.

Don’t get me wrong, 80% of what I wrote was utter tripe.

But what also came out of the three Freewrites I just did were countless interesting images, an idea for a poem and an idea for a short story, not to mention other potential prompts which I probably haven’t picked up on yet. These things are Inspiration Stations!

I’m so excited.

To illustrate the madness which comes out of a Freewrite, here’s the first sentence of one of them, of which the ‘prompt’ is “I need proof…”:

I need proof. proof of what proof of the pudding is in the eating eating rice pudding. Every day for lunch at school they served rice pudding.

Now don’t steal that because it’s genius.

To make the most out of Freewrites, for me, will be going through them at the end and picking out any potentially interesting images, phrases, ideas or characters which emerge. I’m then taking these (which generally number 2/3 bullet points per 5-minute Freewrite) and writing them in a notebook, as a big list. My intention is to use the results of the Freewrites almost as an inspiration bank.


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