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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Writing and 2012 - New Year and a New Me!

For many people, it’s that time of year again for coming up with New Year’s resolutions.  And for most, it’s the same list, just a different year.

I'm very much a 'Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today' person- leaving my job to go to uni is a prime example. I'm good at being bossy taking control of my life, except in one area- my health. I'm not usually a big fan of New Year resolutions. I don’t need it to be the 31st of December for me to realise that I need to get some exercise (the only time my heart's raced recently is at the 50% off signs at the sales) and to eat/drink healthier (I know that just because it's 'diet' Irn Bru, it doesn't make it good for me). The book on my profile pic helps to hide several chins (but it’s hard to constantly walk around with a book in front of me, and it can be dangerous when near traffic!).

And this year, I’m looking at the whole process from an entirely new perspective (wheezing at the top of the uni stairs). Last December, there was as much chance of me returning to uni to do a writing course as there was of finding a vegetarian pit bull terrier.  But now as a mature student, it has made me take a fresh look at my new lifestyle as an aspiring writer. And a doctor's appointment gave me a reality check.

Now that I actually have an excuse to sit on my fat backside every day, I really do need to think seriously about beating the bulge before my rear end had its own postcode. Losing my tractor sized spare tyre will also mean I can get nearer my laptop and literally closer to my work in progress. A writer is supposed to avoid clich├ęs but I'm making my main resolution to lose weight. Slimming World will have a new member on Wednesday night (after a final Hogmanay binge, well I am Scottish- it's the law here!). 

It seems  that I’m not alone with this problem. In Jane Wenham-Jones’s excellent book, ‘Wannabe a Writer?’ she even devotes a large section of the chapter, ‘Occupational Hazards’ to ‘Writer’s Bottom’ and shares her very funny dietary tips. My favourite being, “Have lots of great sex. (N.B. If you’re married, best not to let your husband or wife find out.)”

But apart from the usual physical health resolutions, this year, as an aspiring writer, I’ve added another three psychological goals.

1.       Avoiding folk who might judge me on whether or not I should be doing a uni course with no guaranteed job/career prospects at the end of it.

2.      Sending my inner critic on an extended holiday and growing thicker skin (but with a thinner person inside).

3.       Believing in myself as a writer and adopting a “fake it till you make it” strategy in the meantime. 

"Cheers to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right."- Oprah Winfrey

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A Writer's Ego

Dear Santa,

I’ve been a good girl during my first semester at uni. I didn’t miss a single class and I handed all my assignments in on time. So I was wondering if there was any chance of getting my dream Christmas present this year.

On Christmas morning, I’d like to wake up without a hangover AND also the confidence to actually call myself a writer, out loud in public. I’ve accumulated a fair amount of titles in my adult years- student, teacher, wife (no1 and no2), mother, Training Officer and student again but I’ve yet to feel that I’ve earned the title ‘Writer’.

In the winter edition of the Society of Author’s journal, ‘The Author’, Robert Hull has written a great piece on ‘Am I an author?’ where he states that “somehow one can be a writer without publishing anything, the term paradoxically seems also to imply a route to authordom.” So, what’s my problem? That could be me he’s talking about, I write.  So I am a writer. But I also paint watercolours and I don’t call myself an artist.  I pull weeds in my garden but I don’t call myself a gardener. You get the idea.  For me, the problem with choosing the title, ‘writer’ over any other title, is one of ego.

To be a writer, I think you need to have a big enough ego to put your work out there.  You need to believe that people will be interested enough in what you write to want to invest the time (and possibly hard earned money) to want to read it. You need to believe that you’ve something really worthwhile to say in a world where there are already too many books and more creative writing graduates than you can shake a pen at.  My ego was big enough to make me quit my job so that I could call myself a student, but not big enough to call myself a writer.  Not yet. It’s my personal work in progress.

Oscar Wilde said, “I have nothing to declare except my genius.” Now that’s an ego! I’m not greedy. I don’t want an unhealthy supersized McEgo, just a regular ego with fries and a diet coke.

But don’t worry Santa, if asking for a bigger ego is too much, I totally understand that this is something I will probably have to find myself or search for it on eBay.  If your elves can’t sort out a writer’s ego for me, then here are a couple of ideas for substitute gifts.

P.S. Another bottle of double strength ‘Patience-of-a-Saint’ tablets would also be very much appreciated for my long suffering hubby- he’ll need them for next semester!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Writing a novel? Just Do It!

There are hundreds of ‘How to…’ books on the market forwannabe writers and during this semester, I’ve read several set texts on the craftof writing, the most useful one being oReading Like a Writer by Francine Prose (avery apt surname for a writer!).

But the best book I’ve ever read about the creative writingprocess was not on the uni reading list. It is On Writing by Stephen King andis brilliant, not just for the tips on writing but also as a fascinatinginsight into the life of one of America’s most successful writers. 

The man has written a gazillion novels and his estimated networth is $ 400 million so it’s fair to say that he definitely knows what he’stalking about in the realm of bestsellers. I’ve seen most of the film adaptionsbut not read any of his books but you don’t need to be a fan or an aspiring writer to enjoy thismemoir of the craft. This isn’t a book for literary snobs but it’s certainly abook for anyone trying to hone their writing technique and find out what makesthis guy tick.

It’s a great mix of life story and writing advice where hecuts through the crap and is completely honest about the highs and lows of his career (literallythrough his years of drink and drug addiction) and his miraculous recovery froma near fatal car crash.

I’m proud to say that King has Scottish roots and this showsin his completely unpretentious attitude to telling it like it is. He sees his phenomenalsuccess story as being down to sheer hard work. King writes 2,000 words a day and urgeswannabes to read a lot and write a lot. Simple theory- practise makes perfect (oras good as you’re ever gonna get).

"Don't wait for the muse ... This isn't the Ouija boardor the spirit-world we're talking about here, but just another job like layingpipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows whereyou're going to be every day from nine 'til noon or seven 'til three. If hedoes know, I assure you that sooner or later he'll start showing up, chompinghis cigar and making his magic."

The book is packed full of words of wisdom.  I wish I’d read it years ago and realised thatonly timid writers use passive verbs and that “the adverb is not your friend". I’ve got a lot to learn but now that the uni semester is over, it’s time for meto stop reading the ‘How to…’ books and in the words of the great Greek goddessof victory, Nike, just do it!

If you’ve never read the book, it’s not too late to add itto your letter to Santa. Just remember King’s advice about adverbs  and don’t write that you’d screamloudly, be extremely happy, wildly jump around excitedly on Christmas morningand promise to really cherish the lovely gift if you find it in your stocking!  

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Creative Writing is my Guilty Pleasure

This weekend, I was asked (again!) what kind of job will I be able to get once I’d finished the Mlitt course? Deep breath and a silent scream later I replied that I had no idea. I’ve only just finished the first semester and already I’m being forced to look to the future. Is it so wrong to live in the moment?

When wind and rain battered my bedroom window this week, I got up and looked out at the bleak weather. Then I slipped on my cheetah print fleecy dressing gown and snuggled back down to read a brilliant book (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz- if you must know) as part of my day’s “work”.

This time last year, I would have been driving to work in the dark and coming home in the dark with frizzy hair, fed up and frustrated. 

So if I’m 10 times happier, why am I suffering from a weird side effect called guilt?

 I often feel guilty for doing something I really enjoy. I’m convinced that this Calvinist attitude is an unfortunate default setting for Scottish folk. If you don’t believe me, read Scot’s Crisis of Confidence by Carol Craig where she examines Scots’ attitudes and tendency for negativity. She explores how the self-deprecating joke of “getting above ourselves” is a destructive national trait and how Scotland’s Calvinist heritage includes a highly developed work ethic with a deep sense of duty and social responsibility.

So how does this relate to me?

My friends are busy doing REAL jobs- like social worker and teacher whilst I’m faffing about at uni sweating about whether the latest chapter of my novel works. I applaud their career choice and admire the fact that they’re doing a job that’s important. Good on them! But can I please have one year out of my whole life to indulge my need to have a serious attempt at being a writer without feeling guilty?

I’m not out there battling the elements or saving lives.  I’m staying cosy in my jammies and making up wee stories in my head. But I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I’m determined to shake off John Knox’s legacy (aka Knoxplex) and any hint of guilt to enjoy every minute of the course while it lasts.

"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, 
concentrate the mind on the present moment"