One thing that has struck me today, is that as we venture into the unknown, we are going to have to do more than stay cheerful, or even find reasons for staying cheerful: we are going to have to be creative about how we do both.
I’ve always loved jigsaw puzzles. To me, there is something so cozy about them: they are both simple and complex as a form of entertainment. You can do them on your own – and you can combine them with listening to the radio or a good audio book. What’s not to love! Also, as you piece together the picture, you become part of it. Which is why I’m looking forward to doing the sea view puzzle pictured above.
If you’ve never completed a jigsaw puzzle in your life, now could be a very good time to start. And this leads onto another big reason for being cheerful through Covid-19. On one of the many pages on Facebook that have been set up in local communities to help those in need, I saw a post from a woman who is having to self-isolate asking whether anyone in the area would be prepared to drop a jigsaw puzzle to her house (leaving it safely outside, of course) for her to do. The response from people in the Exmouth community was immediate. And she has since posted to say that she now has several puzzles which she will be paying forward as she has finished with them.
So, if you’re not on Facebook, now may be a good time to create a profile – you can use it purely to connect to the many support groups in your area. And, if you’re so inclined, to get yourself a jigsaw puzzle or two. They really can be very therapeutic. And anything that takes us into a more positive place, and asks our brains to do something that they may not be used to doing, can only be a good thing.
As I progress on my journey to becoming a (published?) writer, I feel that there are a lot of short cuts that I would like to have taken. When I say short cuts, what I really mean is reaching certain points of realisation much quicker than I have. I can’t help wondering whether being told about these things earlier – for example in a “Learning How to be a Writer” guide – would have been preferable to having to come to them by myself over the course of a long process.
So for anyone who is also moving through the maze of developing as a writer I have listed below some of the really important points in my journey that it has taken me a long time to reach:
- Subscribe to a good writing magazine AND read it. I subscribed to Writing Magazine around 18 months ago having bought a copy in my local WH Smith. I loved it and found it really useful but I didn’t read it regularly. Issues would be posted through my letter box every month; I would remove the plastic wrapping and that would be that. I kept the copies and over the past couple of months I have finally started to read them. Why didn’t I do this earlier? Not only do they feature short story competitions and details of publications who are accepting submissions but they also run a “How I got Published” spot featuring a different author every month. This has proved one of the most useful parts of the magazine for me because a large percentage of the writers featured state that they completed an MA in Creative Writing and as often as not their first published novel was the result.
- This leads me neatly to my second point – Enrol on an MA in Creative Writing. It is expensive, but for anyone who is really serious about becoming published, I think that it will be an very worthwhile investment. You can now get a student loan for an MA so what are you waiting for? For those who don’t want to commit to the time and expense of an MA there are plenty of other good writing courses out there. This is where the excellent Writing Magazine comes in useful again. Also see No. 5 below.
- Find a good MA in Creative Writing: so you’ve made the decision to enrol; you’ve looked into the funding; now you just have to find the right course for you. At first I thought it would just be a matter of finding an distance learning MA as I work full time. It is not quite that simple however. There are quite a number of universities that offer distance learning. I am in the midst of researching them now. My criteria is the tutors – they have to be published writers; the success stories of former students – I want to proof that it works; finally the fees. One of my favourites so far is very expensive. I need to weigh up the cost with the benefits. It’s no good going for a cheap course that isn’t effective.
- Finding the time to write: this is really the holy grail for any aspiring writer with various distractions such as a job; a social life; family life and so on. I have tried various writing routines and really the best one is just to do something every day. What and how much depends on the time you’ve got. Some days, like today, I will spend nearly all day writing; it is a bank holiday and my husband is away so it’s perfect. Other days, generally work days, I might only be able to spend 30 minutes; on days like that I generally work on re-writes as I find that easier to dip into. As I mentioned in my previous blog I am on my 3rd draft of a romantic novel and I find that is the perfect occupation for limited time. This is important because I feel that I am moving forward albeit slowly. It’s better to write something than nothing. On the days when I really don’t have time to write, I read – it’s as important.
- Developing as a Writer: this links to number 4 really – along with finding the time to write, you also need to find what genre suits you. If you already know that, then great. But if, like me, you’re not really sure of much beyond whether you want to write fiction or non-fiction then this is an important one. I mentioned in a previous blog that I started a writing course 14 years ago. That really does give a clear picture of how long I’ve been playing around with becoming a writer. Of course it goes back much further than 14 years but that’s just the way it is. The writing course is the Writers’ Bureau distance learning course and it is really useful for a number of reasons. The main one for me at the moment is the first few assignments are articles and they are perfect for short bursts of writing. I can draft a short 1000 word article in around an hour or so and that is great for those days when I don’t have more than that to spare.
That’s it for now: Read, Write and Research – The three R’s.
Being a writer is like being a non-smoker: Some people never smoke – they are determined from the beginning not to smoke – these are the people who write from the off.
Others come to it eventually in the same way they will give up smoking – meaning to for years and then, finally, they do it.
Then there are those who never do; they think about it; talk about it but never actually do it.
I have been off work for a while now – stress and high anxiety – I don’t really want to go into it at the moment, although it could well inform my writing in months to come when I’ve got some distance from it all.
However, what this period away from the 9-5 day has meant is that I have been able to write seriously for the first time in my life. Up until this point I have sort of tinkered around with writing: starting a writing course and leaving it 12 years between my first and second assignment sort of tinkering! I have tried various things to get writing in this time, including starting a vampire novel. I did get quite a way through the vampire novel – 20,000 words give or take a couple of hundred – but my writing routine was pitiful. I started out handwriting the novel – which I thought would be a lovely earthy way of being in touch with my writing but the truth is it just meant that everything took forever. And although, I set myself a target of 1000 words a day, I very rarely put pen to paper on a regular basis.
Being at home and feeling little inclined to get out and about meant that I had to find some structure to my days: writing provided this. As I have mentioned previously, I entered a Mills and Boon writing competition. And no, I’m not going to make any apologies for this no matter how sniffy some people become when Mills and Boon or Romance is mentioned. I didn’t win the competition but I did write a book. I made two important discoveries while writing this book:
1. That writing by hand is not for me; it makes me less productive and that isn’t good.
2. When I’m on a roll, I can write over 4000 words a day.
This may not seem like much, but it has been a bit of a corner turning moment for me. It hasn’t stopped me from the old tinkering around and procrastinating yet, but at least it means that I’ve got a shot at getting on with writing at a much more satisfying rate than formerly. I didn’t mention that the 20,000 words I’d written of the vampire novel had taken around 4 years to write. Put that against 60,000 words in 3 months and you’ll see what I mean.
So, I can write regularly; I can write quantity. Now I have to discover whether I can write quality and whether I can continue writing on a regular basis and turn out enough in terms of quantity to move forward.
Next week, I go back to work. Then the real test will begin.
It’s fascinating being a writer in training; I keep finding out lots of things that I didn’t know such as it is going to take a lot more than banging out my first novel to get published. Particularly as I wrote that novel as a response to a Mills and Boon’s writing competition and therefore wrote the novel that I thought they were looking for rather than the novel that I wanted to write. I didn’t win the competition, didn’t even get short-listed, but I’m so glad that I went through the whole process because I have learnt the following:
- Just because I’m an English teacher doesn’t mean that my first attempt at writing will get results.
- I can’t shoe horn my writing into someone else’s formula.
- Don’t give up.
- I need to find a structure to hang my writing routines around; the writing course that I am working on is as good as any.
- Write every day.
- I can sit down and write a whole novel within a very few months – not a good novel but a novel none-the-less.
- Said novel needs significant re-drafting, possibly leading nowhere other than serving as good practice.
- I have lots of ideas.
- Don’t give up.
- I should try my hand at a few short stories.
I wonder what else I am going to learn. Actually, I already know what I want to learn: how to use Wattpad. I may have a go at writing something to publish on there. So I guess that I’m going to learn whether I can write short stories or not. Or how to. Or possibly how not to.
Whatever, it’s all exciting stuff and I love it. And while I’m talking about lessons learned…
After a very long silence, bar a couple of re-blogs, I have decided to focus on my blog again.
When I started this blog I meant to update it at least weekly and at first I did just that. But as a new blogger, and a fairly new writer, what I didn’t do was establish a writing routine. A routine, I am realising more and more is vital if I am going to get anywhere at all with this writing business. Something that I have realised, as I read other blogs, Writing Magazines and send stuff off out into the world, is going to take a serious amount of time.
So…Here we go – My New Writing Routine and Other Assorted Rules:
- I will write every morning when I am not at work and every evening when I am.
- I will write for at least 2 hours a day when I’m not at work and at least 1 hour a day when I am.
- I will get into the routine of working on different projects.
- I will leave at least two days between finishing small writing projects and redrafting and at least one month for larger projects such as a novel.
- I will update my blog at least once a week, sometimes twice.
My writing routine will look like this:
- Once to twice a week work on blog.
- Two to four times a week work on Writers’ Bureau Writing Course.
- Once a week send a letter or article to a magazine or newspaper
- Twice a week work on a short story.
- Routine to change when back to novel.
Right that will do for now.
On a very positive I do take writing seriously note, I have finished the first draft of a novel and I have re-drafted it briefly once. It is a romance and I really enjoyed writing it. As I mentioned before, I started it to enter a Mills and Boon competition. It didn’t get shortlisted but I am so glad that I did it. I now have my first complete novel. That in itself feels like a huge achievement. I am aware that it is very rough and needs a lot more work but there it is in black and white on my laptop, saved in Dropbox in case of any terrible laptop crashing, memory wiping eventuality.
If I can do that once then I can do it again and again until I get it just right.
So now I feel that I need an image to sum up how I’m feeling with my newly established writing routine in black and white and up and running.
A little bit like this, maybe.
But quite a lot like this…
I am busy appraising the various novel writing software out there at the moment and a post detailing this will follow. But. I thought that I would include an item that I wrote for my school newsletter on reading for pleasure. I am an English teacher and this is something that is close to my heart. I would welcome thoughts and feedback. See below:
Item for School Newsletter:
Reading Makes You Happy
Reading makes you happy; reading makes you a better person; reading gives you a greater understanding of the world around you. What’s more, reading makes you more intelligent which means that you will find school an easier and better experience.
Now you may not think that you need to be a better person, you may not even care about the world around you, but surely you want to be happier.
Well, follow this item in the newsletter every half term and it will help you on the path to happiness.
To help to spread the happiness, I am going to write a regular piece for the school newsletter on the pleasure of reading. Every week I will write about a book that has been recommended by either staff or students.
So for those of you out there who don’t like reading, get ready: your world is about to change in a big, big way.
I thought that for this letter we can start with something a bit different: From now on for those reluctant readers out there, the English department will have a supply of classic Marvel comics. The written word accompanied by brilliant and vivid illustrations is a great way to start or continue your reading adventure.
The late great Muriel Spark, had some excellent advice to aspiring writers. Albeit delivered by one of her characters. By the way, if you haven’t read any Muriel Spark, you should! The advice came from the central character in A Far Cry from Kensington, Agnes Hawkins.
Agnes works as an editor in a publishing house and has a plentiful supply of advice on a variety of subjects. Writing being the principle one. She tells the reader that she passed on “some very good advice, that if you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work,…the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp. The light from a lamp, I explained, gives a cat great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.” My laptop seemed to have the same effect on my cat, Misty, as the desk lamp that Agnes spoke of. And, true to Agnes’ word, Misty’s serenity greatly enhanced my concentration. Very mysterious!
There are many more little nuggets to be uncovered in Muriel Spark’s work. If you haven’t unearthed them already, get reading.