Are You Sitting Comfortably?

My story so far.

I left education thirty years ago. I don’t have a degree. I work full-time. I only started writing three years ago. It is true that once I turned my spare bedroom into my own office to work a few days a week from home, there was no stopping me. I’d write a story or two every month, and either post it here on this blog or enter it into competitions, out of which, 95% were rejected. The successful stories made it into printed anthologies or on-line journals. Click here for details of those.

Then 2020 happened. I bought Masterclass, and, after watching several sessions, realised I was ready for some interactive, on-line, real-time classroom writer’s training. Doing a degree (£9,000 per year tuition fees) and working full time, was out of the question. If I went back to working in the office, then I’d be too tired to travel to class after work. I didn’t have a clear idea for what I wanted to do, except that I was ready to observe, learn and ask questions within a group of writing students.

I struggled with my old chromebook until March 2021, when I had finally saved enough for a Mac. I bought Scrivener (which I am still trying to fathom out). In the last six months, I must have attended 50-70 online creative writing classes, author talks, book launches, publishing industry seminars and related webinars. Of the dozens of partially-started stories and outlines I’ve written to prompts in breakout rooms, a handful have made it further (click here for one of them).

It is strange now to think that virtual events and online teaching wasn’t done on a mass scale until last year. I hope it continues as life begins to open up again. At the moment, I still have far more things to read, write, watch and learn from before I take any more new steps, but at least I have stretched myself out of my comfort zone.

Here follows some of the things I have learned that you may find useful.

Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’ is recommended in almost every writing class as a must-read.

I usually type on a screen but if I’m in a Zoom class, I write by hand. I write in one colour of ink on alternate lines, then use a different colour ink for my edits in the spaces left. (I get now why they always ask for submissions to be double spaced!) My favourite pens are the Stabilo PointBall Ballpoint Pen and the Schneider Slider Memo XB Ballpoint Pen. I must have a dozen ballpoint pens but only one has black ink, and I’ve only bought that for signing official forms. (Apparently it’s National Ballpoint Pen day on June 10th)

Not all writing paper is the same. I like the feel of the paper in Leuchtturm1917 notebooks.

Eventbrite has loads of Zoom/MSTeams classes. Paying for classes doesn’t guarantee that they will be good. Free classes aren’t necessarily bad. It depends on how the classes are funded and who is teaching them. I would recommend searching for library or city literature festivals, as well as adult education classes. Lots of those organisations have Arts Council funding, so their creative writing or author events are usually free or subsidised. Some are, however, ringfenced to certain groups of people, such as residents of a particular county. Some publishers also run courses, with their own authors as tutors.

Many of these organisations record their Zoom classes/webinars and add them to YouTube after the event, (Reedsy), or onto their own websites for a small charge (The Hay Festival).

Twitter is a great place to find and connect with writers and publishing industry people. What other field could you chat to famous people and attend classes taught by them for free?

Most writing competitions use Submittable or Duotrope. The former tracks your progress. This is a small portion of my Submittable tracker.

Most writers don’t make enough money from writing, so they need a day job as well. Writers read a lot (see above for part of my tbr pile). I’ve found it hard to concentrate on reading recently, so have immersed myself into Audible.

70 lessons condensed into 70 words

You will hear about the inciting incident, hero’s journey, creating a narrative, showing not telling, a sense of place, mind mapping, hermit crab flash fiction, prose poems, hybrid stories, polishing your story, strings of tension, three act structures, limiting your flashbacks, the story arc, flow, character motivation, memorable/unusual not obvious descriptions, conflict, pace, every sentence needing a verb, drama IS conflict, being concise, and what does the protagonist want/need?

I’ve heard these lines more than once. The more you write the better you get at it. It’s during the process that the nuggets of gold can be mined so you get to the emotional core. You can’t edit a blank page. Most writing is rewriting. There are structural, character or line edits. Use fewer adverbs. Only use “said”. Readers don’t see “said” but they will see “exclaimed”, “whispered” or “bellowed” and it will throw them off.

There’s a difference between what some editors want to read and what the public generally wants to read.

One of the rules is that it’s positive feedback in class only. If the reader thinks the story doesn’t work, they are generally right. Learn to live with rejection. It’s just one person’s opinion.

None of the above is set in stone. It is all opinions I have heard that you are free to agree with and use, or not.

Only you can write the story you want to tell, and look where it might lead to!

The Museum of Ordinary People

photo-1498811008858-d95a730b2ffc

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

I don’t know about you, but I’ve started deleting – without reading – the endless stream of emails about you-know-what. Unpresidented times indeed (not a typo). New York. My most frequent holiday destination. I will miss you.

My nephew simply posted the following word to his instagram.

INTERMISSION

Kids who thought the next six months were full of revising, exams, prom, the obligatory Leavers hoodie then travelling, and possibly University, are suddenly homeschooling themselves. Boomers, Gen X, Millennials; stand aside and make room for the Quarenteens, folks. And don’t even get me started on how long it took to convince the oldies in my life that they had to stay in, and they could not just “pop out” for a haircut or a newspaper for the next three months!

We’re all pretending we knew what furlough meant before a fortnight ago. We’ve stopped ironing our clothes. We eat more biscuits and some have taken up jogging. The local police use drones to monitor dog walkers who are driving to the countryside where they shouldn’t be. Our beloved pharmacy and toiletries store, Boots, had a virtual queue of 200,000 people last Sunday just waiting to be allowed onto the website. The postie now knocks on my door and leaves the parcel on the ground. I have The Guardian Live update on constant refresh and BBC1 at 5pm has become the place to be for the latest news from 10 Downing Street. I can see a school playing field from my house. The children may be gone, but a family of foxes and an eagle have taken up residence, along with a tiding of magpies, who enjoy jumping and hopping around chasing each other. I hope that grey squirrel made it.

I’m lucky. I was already working from home so have continued to do so in my slowed-down bubble of first world problems.  My worries and anxieties are trivial compared to most.

I’ve been keeping a daily journal for the Museum of Ordinary People (MOOP) of my thoughts, feelings, opinions, experiences and observations during the virus. Along with the other participants, these diaries may provide an insight into the personal, social and cultural impact of the Covid-19 outbreak. Who knows what will happen in the future? Life is very different now to what it was a month ago and will never be the same again.

these+times+crop

Keep safe, and stay at home.

Nicola x

July 2020 UPDATE.

Three months from a shiny new Leuchtturm 1917 notebook to a plague journal.