Try again. Fail better.

 

Oh my, two steps forward eighty-seven back. I started a post last week about how positive and invigorated  I felt following the poetry workshop with Bare Fiction. I didn’t finish it, but I wish I had because right now I could do with remembering how it felt to feel positive and invigorated.

I’ve had my feedback for my most recent assignment. It’s ok, but it’s the kind of feedback where you know the tutor has struggled to find some nice things to say. I know, I used to do the same. The thing is, her points are entirely right. I was bored of this story by the time I finished it,and it shows. I still have the feeling that I am standing on the edge, too scared to actually push myself to write honestly. I seem to default to a style that echoes the tales in Woman’s Weekly (nothing wrong with that, it’s just not where I want to be). Perhaps this is why I like poetry. I seem to move a little more freely, where I get all tangled up with short fiction.

I’m also struggling with the degree element. I’ve no desire for a qualification but I know I’m deliberately holding back so that I’ve got something to rework for the assessment. I made the mistake last year of revising to the best I could before each assignment, which meant I felt I couldn’t take my work any further when I had to submit for assessment. It’s tapping into my desire to complete and achieve, which is easier to work within than actually making the leap into creativity. That point where things scare me a little is occurring less frequently as I sink into the comfort of meeting learning objectives, and the gratification that gives. I think It might be time to stop working with OCA, I don’t feel I’m developing. To be honest, I learned as much from a two hour workshop as I did in six months study. Or perhaps I’m just in a sad fug of low confidence. A tiny bit of me wishes I’d never started this and was able to gain satisfaction from a lovely new dress or buying a fancy car.

Hopefully I’ll be in a better place next week, and I’ll be able to tell you about the good things. They seem a long way away at the moment.

One year on……..

It’s my anniversary. Twelve months since I started putting thoughts on paper and sending them out to be read. By rights I’d like to be shouting about my acheivements. I’d like to be telling I’ve been published or that I’ve won twenty seven competitions. After all there’s no point in all this if I’m not successful is there?

But there is. And I’ve only just realised it. You see, I’m the kind of person who says nothing unless spoken to. The kind of person who gives little away unless I’m asked a question. I am someone whose voice is crowded by those who are confident,those who are noisy and those who simply can’t bear silence. It’s not a trait I like, and I find many social occasions leave me frustrated and cross with myself. I am used to it and I am happy to be a listener for eighty percent of my time. I just long for the chance to be heard in that other twenty percent.  This is what I have here. It’s not a particularly loud or flamboyant voice, or place but it is a voice nonetheless. Realising that is my success.

I believe am writing some of the best work I ever have. It’s not visible, mainly because I can’t afford to enter any competitions at the moment and I really want to save the work for when I can. I think I’m afraid I’ll never write anything else half decent. The down side is that I’m experiencing brain fog more powerfully than I ever had. Writing creatively seems to exhaust a whole new element of me. Interacting with people is becoming harder and my body is not in a happy place. I’m resting my brain, as advised by the two people closest to me. They also have the dubious accolade of being possibly the only people that I’ll actually listen to. Don’t tell them .

I am still working on my OCA work, but not at such an intense rate. I was rushing to finish, rather than working to learn. My intention is to have a body of work ready for submission to comps and publications by summer. This gives me time to research my market which I find incredibly challenging. Perhaps I’m just a bit intimidated.

A year on I haven’t hit dizzy heights. I don’t even feel that great about the prospect. I’m not going to stop though, and anyone who knows me knows that is a sign that I think there’s something worthwhile ahead.

Thank you for reading. Please follow my blog on here and please, like and share on Facebook. They’re mucking about with the settings again, so make sure you’ve clicked the button at the top of the page that says you would like notification when I post. If you could invite your friends to like my page, that would be absolutely tremendous.

Peace and kittens x

Some more things I’ve learned

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©kam

Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker’s intentions; it is populated—overpopulated—with the intentions of others. (Bakhtin,1981,p294)

I’m enjoying this part of my studies so much. I first encountered the work of Mikhail Bakhtin as part of my studies for my degree English Language, way back in 1999. I loved it then and I love it now. It makes so much sense to me. Everything we read,hear or write is influenced by those around us and by previous experience. The response I have had to my previous post illustrates this beautifully. I had so many supportive messages (thank you), and each one featured a personal account, either through direct or indirect experience. As we read anything, whether it’s a novel or a half-witted twitter rant, we bring our own values and judgement to bear. I’m sure there will be some who read and sigh and roll their eyes. I cannot control that and accepting the negative response is part of putting work into the public domain. Being mindful that negativity reflects personal experience and prejudice helps me to distance myself. A little.

This concept of dialogism seems obvious, but what makes it so interesting is that it is such a subconscious act and that it is an act that influences our understanding and behaviour in almost every sphere of our interaction with others. Every word retains its social history even when used in a new context. It’s like having ghosts sitting on our shoulders as we read, listen or write.

How does this affect me as a writer ? It makes me think more. It makes me worry less. If a piece of writing means something to someone, how much does it matter if their understanding does not correlate with my intent ? Not a great deal . The only situation that would concern me would be a gross misappropriation of my values and beliefs although I think with my tiny (and lovely) readership I’m fairly safe.

Bakhtin’s work is also helping me with an area I’ve struggled with; developing the voices of my characters. One of the best things someone said to me recently was that they could really hear the characters’ voice as they read, instead of hearing me . That is what I am striving for, because that is when I will know I have created an authentic character. Everything we write has an element of our self, but my aim for this next part of my course is to create strong, vivid voices that help my reader to feel and know my character. If I can write something that resonates with others then that will be the icing on the cliche.

New things I’ve learned

SAMSUNG CSCIt’s nearly time to submit my second assignment for Writing Short Fiction. I am enjoying this course so much! I’ve learned a few technical terms which is always something I enjoy, mainly because it makes me feel like I know what I’m talking about. Many of the terms in creative writing have pleasingly dramatic names, In Medias Res for example, starting things in the midst of things, plunging us as readers right in to the action, or Deus ex machina , is a plot device where a new character or situation appears and resolves a tricky plot. A particular favourite is pathetic fallacy not just because it doubles as a marvellously plosive insult but because it’s something I’ve enjoyed before I knew what it was. Ruskin used the phrase as exasperated in reaction to the poets of the nineteenth century and their weaving of nature and emotion. The term is pejorative, but the technique can be beautiful. I’ve been reading much more short fiction, and the use of nature to mirror emotion is a subtle way of creating depth and resonance. When every word has to count, a device that works with experiences that the reader is likely to have experienced is invaluable. Not sure I’d say that to Ruskin, obviously.

The work I’ve been reading has been a revelation. I have an odd relationship with short fiction. Until I started studying, my experience had mostly been short stories in my Mum’s copy of Family Circle magazine.Later on when I tried to read more literary pieces, I found myself oddly dissatisfied, and quite anxious. I didn’t want to invest time in a character who was going to disappear in a pages time. Even once I began studying I found myself overwhelmed with reading competition entries from my peers which were dense, obscure pieces that I didn’t completely get and that left me a little cold. I thought this was how I had to write to be considered good. One of the main things I’ve learnt is that fancy words are just that and the true skill is describing people,situations and feelings in a way that is authentic and good to read.

Happily, there is a middle ground between Family Circle and forced academia.I’ve loved the work of Margaret Atwood since I was seventeen, but avoided her short stories for all the reasons I’ve talked about.Big mistake. They’re as amazing as you would expect, showing the worst of human nature in a way that sits and stirs and stays with me. My tutor has introduced me to other writers too, who create tiny snapshots of life that make me think and make me wish I’d written them. I suppose it’s like food,sometimes a tiny canapé with zingy sharp flavours is more pleasing than a hefty meal. I’d just been tasting the wrong things.

As I’m enjoying reading them, so I’m enjoying writing them and can feel a difference in how I’m thinking. Each draft becomes more focussed on capturing the essence of the story, rather than the whys and whats. My writing is very different to my first “official” attempts and I feel it is improving. Being able to feel I’m progressing is great. I’d like it to quicker but the fact that I’m persevering despite daily frustrations is something I’m pleased with.

If you’ve enjoyed this would you do me a favour ? Liking the post on Facebook or Twitter means that more of my friends and yours will subscribe to this blog and my page. Sharing it means that even more people will get to see it. If you could do one, or both I will be a happy as a happy chicken. Which is very happy indeed.

Up and down

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I started to write a post on Friday. It’s title was Gah! which is an indication of how I was feeling. I haven’t really recovered from having fun a couple of weekends ago and I’m still a reluctant rester, so as soon as a little spark of energy starts I jump up and decide I feel better. This is a bad thing. I need to cultivate balance,  but that has never been my nature. Each bad spell seems to last longer though, so I know I need to change something and try to live in a more measured manner.  The problem is it all feels so measured now and I’m not sure how much calmer I can be.

Wobbly health has meant plenty of brain fog so studying has been tricky, even writing this is taking far longer than it should. I can still say I am enjoying it, even if it does take me an hour to read a few lines. I’ve been learning about technique which is something I really enjoy. It’s a bit like being given a new recipe to try out I suppose, one which has new spices that I’ve never used. I’m looking forward to experimenting in my next piece of short fiction, which is bubbling away in my head.

I’ve also had a leap forward with my work for the Hundred House and I finally feel I’m producing decent posts. I spent today taking photographs of a beautiful garden, watching chefs create great food and then tasting it. Not a bad Monday all in all. I use all the research to create blog posts that I hope will entice people to visit. Being back in a working environment is tricky and I find it quite scary but it makes me feel useful, even if it is only a few hours work a week.

All in all my Gah! feeling has waned. This is the danger time in a way, since I’m full of adrenaline having had an encouraging day, I need to be cultivate calmness. Unfortunately I seem to have more in common with an overexcited puppy than is entirely useful. I need more practice I think. Wish me luck.

Cut Flowers

Assignment one of Writing Short Fiction is now making its way through the wilds of the internet. It’s been a bit of a slog, mainly because my body and brain haven’t taken kindly to my asking too much of them. But it’s gone. Hoorah!

Despite my general disgruntlement with O.C.A., I’ve learned a lot from this first part of the course, and feel that I’ve developed a more positive outlook to my work, which is a delight after the way I’ve been feeling for the last couple of months. I’ve written a new piece for the assignment, which I feel tentatively happy with (until it is scrutinised by my tutor of course), and which I know I worked hard on. Pushing my characters to develop their own voice doesn’t always come easily, but I feel I have with this piece. In many ways, things are looking up.

I’ve also been doing a bit of planning and organising, and a bit of reflection on the summer.

Those of you who follow me on Instagram or Facebook will know I’ve been a bit obsessed with my tiny cutting garden over the last few weeks. It’s given me so much joy. I love having flowers in the house anyway, and the fact that I’ve grown these beauties from seed makes it extra special. I’ve also realised that the more I cut them the more they bloom, and the stronger the plant becomes. Hmm……… I wonder a if there is anything I could learn from this? I realise I’ve over stretched myself this summer, for fear of disappointing people, or simply because so very many days alone does make me a little lonely. I don’t feel strong, and I don’t feel like I’m blooming. The first thing to suffer is writing, because dear old brain fog rears its fuzzy head, and hands that do dishes seem unable to do much else. I need to cut away a few of the terribly enticing flowers so I’ve got time to do the thing that really does make me stronger. Unfortunately I have little self discipline, and hate missing out on the fun. I hate making sensible decisions.

A mixed couple of weeks all in all, the last days of summer are looming, which always makes me sad, but Autumn with its poetic gifts and pies and stews will no doubt cheer me up.

Until then, here’s some more flowers.

What do I know ?

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I’ve been studying properly again for about a month, give or take the odd jaunt to the outside world. Looking back through my ‘reflective diary’ (this isn’t as grand as it sounds, it’s basically collection of scraps and scribbles of random thoughts), the word that jumps out is “enjoy”. I am enjoying this. I am enjoying learning about all the what if’s of creating a story. What if I start it earlier? What if I start with introspection? What if I start in the middle of the action. I enjoy how these things change the whole tone of a story. In the same way as altering the point of view, altering the initial point of contact has a significant impact for the reader.

 

I’ve also enjoyed a new way of looking at the phrase “write what you know”. This phrase has always troubled me,  I don’t have a particularly exciting, or meaningful life. The conflicts and traumas of my past seem to have levelled out, and mostly I’m quite cheery. Add to this the restrictions of M.E. (one exciting thing a week, or face certain gloom), and my day to day life feels quite small. I can’t work outside the home, I don’t often leave the house to pop to the shop,nip out for coffee or go for a little amble. Add to this the fact that I live on a street where someone walking past is a notable thing, you can see why “what I know” feels like it’s mostly my garden and my cat. When I do leave the house, I am delighted , and a little overwhelmed. It’s all I can do to stop staring at the wonder that is “other people” . “What I know”, feels as though it is becoming confined to memory, with the odd event popping up now and then. Then I came across this.

‘Writing what you know means drawing on your experience, memories, knowledge and passions, and using this to develop your fictional characters. You can use what you understand about yourself, and what you remember from your own past, as well as what life has taught you about other people, to enable you to empathise with them’

This extract from Nathan Englander’s podcast  is incredibly helpful to me. It ties in with the idea that we are more than what we do, what have, what we display to the outside world. My inner life is what will illuminate my writing, and help me create believable, beguiling characters. So, whilst my life is smaller than it used to be, and points of excitement are fewer, the combination of memories, and my response to those memories gives enough material for many, many pieces of work.

I’m working on a new story for my next assignment. I’m enjoying letting it ‘brew’, as directed by my course material. I’ve said before that character is king, and this only becomes more relevant as my work progresses. I’m trying a new technique, and applying the exercises to the character I am using in my story. This may work against me, in it does narrow the breadth of work I step in to, but I’m hoping doing this will help me really get to know her. The final product will show me whether it’s been the right choice.

You can listen to the whole podcast here

https://curiosity.com/videos/write-what-you-know-nathan-englander-on-misunderstood-advice-big-think/

 

 

 

Drizzle 

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Drizzly old week. Often that’s a good writing week, because it means I’m not tempted by the garden. This week has been mixed, some recovery, some writing, and a bit of werriting.

My new course feels a little like my old course, lots of exercises on character sketching, and on using memory. But as I’m writing, I know that I have changed. I don’t search for a clever word, or sparkling phrase. I want to distill the essence of the character, to tell you what they cannot speak aloud. I’ve read an interesting piece by Alison McLeod, about writing and risk taking, and the concern we have over what people may think of us, when they read what we have written. This was a little flag to me. I’m very reserved, concerned about my public persona. We all are I suppose, even if our person is “I don’t care what people think”, that itself becomes a mask. Writing carries the danger that the image I create may be challenged, and my awareness of this affects how I write. It certainly affects what I want the public to read. Mcleod goes on to say that risks in writing need to be for a purpose, not just sensation, and need as much talent and skill as  possible. Otherwise, of course, I will have just created another mask.

All this thinking is well and good, but is it improving my writing? Yes, is the short answer. I’m writing more honestly, but also more critically. Asking “What if ?”, asking how my character would behave in other situations is giving me a person who feels more real, and who I feel I am getting to know through the writing process. I’m also aware of the difference rediscovering poetry has made. I am less afraid to move away from a normal structure, and more aware of how the shape and style of piece of prose can enhance it’s meaning.  I feel as though something has shifted back in my brain, and I’m thinking like myself again.

In short, I’m enjoying it all a great deal. Despite the drizzle.

Out of shape……

It’s almost a month since I wrote anything. I mean anything. Other than my work for the hotel, and a few scrappy notes, not a jot has been jotted. I want to say I feel bereft; the truth is my head just feels too full. I’m afraid to put a chink in the dam. Between global horror, domestic politics and personal peripherals, I have more thoughts than I can cope with.

But I do miss it. I feel panicked, worried that I’ve forgotten everything I’ve learnt, and worried to start again. I suppose it must be like this for folk who exercise and then spend two weeks eating doughnuts.

The fact that my college is dragging it’s feet over a decision about my next course isn’t helping. Whilst I’ve not been worried about getting yet another qualification, having the chance moved away from me rankles somewhat. Time is crucial, and at the moment it’s being wasted . Never a nice feeling. Perhaps feeling annoyed about this is my doughnut?

Of course,the answer is to write. I have work writing scheduled for tomorrow, but I have promised myself that Wednesday will be a day of creativity, playing with writing prompts, looking through all the photos of graffiti I took whilst I was on holiday, and making something I love.

No more doughnuts.

Exciting news! 


Oh, I’m so thrilled! I’ve just found out I’ve been selected for Nine Arches Press poetry mentoring scheme. It’s such a boost. They’re a proper literary magazine, and it means so much that someone thinks I’m worth investing some time in. I’m beyond excited. Little steps.