Archive for the ‘eTMAs’ Category


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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My aims in doing A215 were to find out whether I could be an adequate writer, discover whether I can apply myself to writing (this is still in question), to improve my writing and ultimately take a step towards applying for a Masters in Creative Writing (if I still wanted to).

I’m moderately pleased with what I can achieve when I set my mind to it: I’m pleased with my marks and I am beginning to have a vague understanding of the very basic rules of writing. I work well to a deadline (but not at all without one, damn me), and I can write quickly.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that my first drafts (like most people’s), are absolutely awful but redeemable, generally.

And I have applied for places on three MA courses, starting in September 2010.

But very little of what I have learnt in the past few months is due directly to A215. True, the main things I have been writing are the assignments, and it is motivating me, but I’m learning more from self-editing, friends, and reading writing blogs than I am from the (occasionally vague and waffy) BRB chapters.

Admittedly, some are useful, and I am looking forward to the Editing section, but it seems that a prior knowledge or backup research is always necessary to get the most out of the BRB, and actually that the chapter content is better approached as a structural guide for further reading than an actual reference book.

I would love the interactive nature of the course if it worked. I’m sure that many people get a lot out of the forums and their tutor groups, but that’s not the case for me. My tutor group is silent (I’m as responsible for this as anyone, after my initial flounders), and the course forum is too huge.

My conclusions about this course are that I am glad I did it: it has fulfilled the role for which I wanted it. But I couldn’t recommend it to another prospective student, particularly not one working full-time.

Is this fair? What does anyone else think?

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I must admit, the subject I chose for one of my poems for the poetry TMA caused me to sit on my sofa, laptop on me knee, sobbing my heart out for hours. We do it to ourselves, don’t we?

I nearly didn’t write it.

“I’ve started to write a poem about something, for my next assignment. And when I was writing the initial draft, I just couldn’t stop crying. And I thought… well, how arbitrary can you be when you’re editing if the subject means that much to you? It would be impossible. And there’s no guarantee others will relate to the subject matter, if it’s so emotive to the author. You can’t write about it clearly, surely?” I said to a colleague, Poetry Guy (swoon).

“But…” he paused, thinking. “But that’s what I think poetry is. For me, a poem is completely from the heart. It doesn’t matter whether it rhymes, or whether it’s in iambic pentameter… if it contains a little piece of the author’s heart, it’s a poem.”

(swoon, slobber, faint, etc).

So I wrote the poem. And gosh, it was hard. And gosh, I can’t show it to anyone I know, except very close people (not even Poetry Guy has seen it, although I think he deserves to).

I showed it to my parents and it made them cry. I felt a little proud. It can’t be that bad, right? 🙂

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Oh, goodness, there has been a shameful lack of posting here of late. In fact, since December. Shame on me.

I’ve been really behind on the course, unfortunately.

It emerges that extensions aren’t actually the great gift which one expects when requesting them.

Christmas was a toughie, and I got quite behind with my work, so I asked for an extension on TMA2. This became a vicious cycle: because I was a week behind on the Poetry section after handing in my late TMA, I remained at least a week behind throughout the whole unit.

I stopped doing the exercises, and literally just read the BRB and worked towards the poetry TMA, which, due to being extremely busy at work, was again handed in with an extension.

So…. Life Writing rolled around and I was still behind because of TMA3’s extension. I spent a few weeks being busy and panicing and avoiding A215 work until things got rather ridiculous.

(Remember I said that I wanted to stay on top of things, and that my procrastination becomes ridiculous if I get behind with things? Yeah… I was definitely right).

So on a period of about two weeks, I have read the entire Life Writing section, not done any of the activities, and will be handing TMA4 in tonight, ON TIME, and next week I will begin the next section properly, and on schedule.

I’m a silly bugger.

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Planning and Plotting

I haven’t started writing TMA02 yet. I’ve procrastinated a lot, and definitely done a lot of thinking about it, which can’t hurt.

What I have been doing, however, is an experiment.

In my last TMA-related post, I explained how I was quite worried about knowing where to start, particularly with regard to the narrative structure, point of view and that kind of thing. Those problems aren’t solved, exactly, but I do have a starting point now.

I was trying to pack too much into my stories; they were like mini-novels, and that’s not how it should be. I have also never really planned a short story, preferring to sit down and see where the ideas take me.

On the advice of many people, I have been reading more short stories to familiarise myself with the genre.  A couple of months ago I read Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which is a short story collection. Raymond Carver is a highly celebrated short story writer, praised particularly for his stark and concise prose, in which he says so much with very few words.

I noticed that one of his stories had a structure which could be mapped onto a story idea I had for my TMA, and was of a similar length. So I made a table:

Section Word Count Function Raymond Carver’s Story My Story
A 350 Brief summary of why RC added this section – what it achieved in the overall structure and progress of the story. Very brief outline of what happens in Section A. Based on the ‘Function’ column, a brief outline of what could happen in my story in a similar amount of words.

In the end, the Raymond Carver story divided neatly up into seven sections, and the word count was similar to the 2,200 TMA requirement. Completing the table was relatively quick and easy, and by the end I had a full story plotted out. My story, I hasten to add, is completely different to the Carver story I looked at, but it is structurally matched in a way which will probably be imperceptible once it is written.

I can’t say whether this will be successful for my TMA or not, but I have enjoyed it as an exercise in deconstructing the short story. What does everyone else think?

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Stage Fright

I’ve started thinking about TMA2, and am getting rather worried about it, to be honest. It’s worth a lot of marks!

I’ve realised over the past few months that a really good short story is often only a glimpse: a window of time in an established world. In other words, the author has done a lot of planning, knows everything that happened before and after, and chose to write about a tiny section of those lives.

I’m not sure how to do this, and I’m especially not sure how to do this with the idea I’ve got.

My mind is full of questions: Where do I start? How does it end? Where does it end? Point of view? Narrative voice? Extra characters? Chronological or flashbacks? Does it even need flashbacks or can they be alluded to? Do the characters need to develop? Do they need actual action, or just a slight transition? How can I show what I want to show?

One problem I sometimes have is that my second draft is a lot shorter than the first. So technically, I need a story which fits into at least 3000 words, as I will then pare it down considerably. On the other hand, how much story fits into 3000 words? It’s not going to be an epic tale of a lifetime, but it can’t just depict one moment.

Rebecca mentioned story arcs, and that a story of 2200 words might need two story arcs, or one big one. I wonder what story arcs are? How do I get me one of those?

Most importantly, does anyone have any helpful resources for short story plotting? And how is everyone else doing with TMA2 thinking?

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Haven’t heard anything yet.


Still no news.


Nothing at the moment.


No new emails.


Maybe I’ll check the TMA service.






What about now?


Still nothing.


Maybe tomorrow.

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