The Next Chapter

In the next week I will be starting a new and exciting chapter in my writing life. It will definitely be crazy with a captial ‘C’ for the next two years as I will be starting two Masters programmes related to writing. Yes, two!

This was never my intention. I applied for a place on Manchester Metropolitan University’s Creative Writing course and when I didn’t hear anything back (it’s a very reputable course and I wasn’t expecting an offer) I applied for an MA in Comedy Writing from Falmouth University because I’ve recently started writing more scripts.

Imagine my surprise when I found out with a few hours I had been accepted for both. I never thought I would have to choose between two great options. I wrote out a list of pro- and cons, which is my usual go-to when trying to make a life-changing decision, and was seriously leaning towards the Comedy Writing when I found out a short story I’d written had been accepted for publication by an online magazine. It was only then I started to think about doing both.

It’s not a decision I took lightly. I’ve done research, talked to friends and those that know me, looked into how I can reduce my working hours with my day job (if necessary) and how I can fit everything I need to do in my life with taking on such a massive amount of studying. It’s going to be tough but I’m up for the challenge.

The quote that made me realise I can do this was:

Find something you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

This is exactly how I feel about storytelling and writing and, if I want to have a professional career in writing (and I have since I was about 10) I know I need to stop procrastinating to do something amazing to change my life.

Now is the right time to start this. A few years ago I wouldn’t have the confidence to even consider this. There will be doubts in my head along the way I’m sure but I have my plans if things get too much and, more importantly, I have great people around me who Iknow will be championing me to the finish line and on to achieving what I have always wanted to.

I can’t wait to get started. It’s going to be a roller-coaster. If you hear me screaming, it’s only because I want to go faster!

Starting as I mean to go on… with bright stationery!

Screen Writing

Completely by chance I’ve found myself dabbling in screen writing. During the lockdown I took part in writing classes offered by a theatre company I studied with for the first time last year.

I have never written anything for stage or screen before apart from a handful of terrible attempts at high school. On a sidenote: English teachers are saints for reading creative writing attempts from teenagers. Imagine having a passion for literature and have to force yourself to read and mark drivel from the pen of a hormonal juvenile?

On the course we were encourage to read each others work and actively give feedback. I find that giving feedback is easy but to sit and listen to people disecting a piece you have pored your heart and soul into is my worst nightmare, even though it’s a vitally important part of the process.

The feedback I received was nothing short of unbelieveable. The instructor couldn’t believe it was my first attempt at writing for the stage. Every writer wants to hear that they can write good dialogue, because there is nothing worse than stilted conversations between characters that doesn’t sound real.

I never thought I was great at writing dialogue because it can be hard to know if it sounds realistic as you are tapping away at a keyboard.

Here are some tips for writing dialogue that I’ve picked up along the way and have helped me:

  1. People don’t normally speak in full sentences. So don’t write in full sentences!
  2. Dialogue is the ‘Greatest Hits of Speech’. It would be so dull if dialogue was written exactly how people speak in real life. Cut out the hesitations and get to the best bits.
  3. Dialogue should either reveal something more to the reader about a character or move the plot on. If it doesn’t then leave it out. The reader will just get bored if dialogue is full of irrelevant and mundane details.
  4. Listen to how people speak when they don’t realise they are being observed. Listening into conversations on the train is one of my favourite pastimes. Identifying speech patterns can make dialogue more realistic.
  5. Read what you’ve written out loud. You might seem crazy if someone walks in on you but when you hear the words out loud, you will instantly know that it doesn’t ‘sound’ right.

I’ve now started another online screen writing course and I’m hoping to have good material and ideas at the end of it. It’s so exciting to learn a new writing discipline and to be able to bring what I’ll learn to my fiction writing. Of course, I am hoping my writing will be eventually performed but for now I am enjoying learning the process!

Lockdown Limericks

By no stretch of the imagination am I close to anything remotely resembling a poet but during lockdown I started writing poetry.

As well as attempting to write haikus for the first time (not as hard as I thought they would be), I also dabbled with free verse and limericks. I must say that of all the poetic forms limericks are the ones that strike a chord with me most. I think it’s the comic twist at the end that always gets me.

So I wrote some lockdown-themed limericks and I saw an online magazine that was looking for submission of any creative writing that was written during the pandemic. I thought why not see if I can get them published? I didn’t have high hopes of them being published but I found out yesterday they have been.

I warn you that they’re not the best limericks in the world but I hope you enjoy them anyway. You can read them here.

Thank you to the folks at Invictus for investing so much time into getting these fantastic scribblings published!

Changing the goal posts!

At the start of the year I set myself 4 writing goals. The first one was to complete a draft of a short story collection by the end of April. It is now the start of June, so how did I do?

To help improve my short story writing, I took an online course which started in January. I can’t put into words how helpful the course was. I learnt so many techniques, was able to receive and give feedback to other people who were doing the same course and managed to write a great short story by the end of it.

During the course I realised my ambition to publish a collection of short stories (either by self-publishing or via more traditional routes) was completely unrealistic. The instructor explained to us that Roald Dahl considered himself to have had a good writing year if he wrote 4 good stories a year. Four? Wow! My estimation of trying to crank out a 40’000 word collection of stories in a couple of months was off target. If the genuis who wrote some of my most favourite childhood books was aiming for 4 a year, I should probably aim for 4 in my lifetime. I’m going to have to rethink this.

In more positive news, the instruction also said the best way to have a collection of short stories published is to enter competitions. Agents often look at the shortlists of competitions seeing who is the next hot talent. That way the agent comes to you rather than you spend the time trying to find one who wants to work with you.

So, like all great plans, I have decided to refocus. I have decided to focus entering my stories in competitions for the time being. I am sure agents won’t end up fighting to sign me up for a book deal but you can never tell in this funny planet we are living on.┬áThe worse that could happen is me ending up with a collection of good short stories that I’m proud of and want to self-publish.

As I had been ferociously writing at the start of the year in order to meet my self-imposed deadline, I do have a lot of good material that I can edit, rework and think about which I can hopefully enter into some competitions later this work. The editing and reworking is the hardest part but it is fast becoming my favourite part of writing.

The first draft of writing the story is possibly the part I dislike the most. Not only am I faced with a blank page but also I have no idea what is going to happen. I’m telling myself the story in this phase, finding out if there even is a story. With editing and reworking I’m focusing on the minute details of the story, thinking about what the reader is going to be thinking and feeling when they read it back and making it more entertaining. I feels like I’m crafting something rather than fumbling around in the bathroom with the lights off.

That will be my goal for the rest of the year: to get some of my poorly written first drafts moulded and ready to be sent into competitions. I have already made two submissions of my writing this year: one to a website for women who write comedy and one to an international short story writing competition. Fingers crossed for those and the other competitions I enter this year.

First Draft completed!

Writing a book has been one of my ambitious for longer than I care to remember. I’ve always found an excuse about why I can’t do it or shouldn’t do it.

In 2018 I was determind to write my first novel, especially as I was out of work and had the time to dedicate to such a project. I got to about 20’000 words, which isn’t an insignificant amount, and abandoned the project completely. Why did I decide to abandon it? I’m not sure. Part of it had something to do with me thinking that it wasn’t good enough. I had an idea in my head that all I had to do was sit at my desk and the prose would flow like a waterfall. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t work like that.

In January I sat down and made myself 4 writing goals. I decided it would be my goal (come what may) to write a first draft of a novel. I came prepared this time and I read Jon Acuff’s book, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done. I wrote my thoughts about it here. I wanted to use as many of the practical tips in the book to help me. And yesterday I finished the first draft of my first novel. After hitting the last full stop, I can honestly say I have never felt so emotionally and physically drained. And I’ve ran more than one painfully slow marathon!

I am under no illusion that this is a rough first draft with a capital ‘R’ but at least it exist now! I had an idea of a story and, apart from having a solid idea about a couple of the main characters and a loose idea for the plot, I just wrote. As I was writing, I already knew there would be parts of the plot to fix, details about the characters and their relationships to work on and a clearer presentation of the locations needed to be given to the reader. These would’ve been hurdles that would have previously stopped me in my track but Acuff’s book and the quote below kept me focus on my aim of finishing the draft.

Another way I kept myself going was to write some notes about things to add and consider in the next draft as they occurred to me as I wrote so that I didn’t forget them. I now have a list of things to start with and a surprising number of things to research and fact-check when I start editing and rewriting it.

I know there is a lot of work to do with this book but I also know I have a very good framework to build on. I’m now going to leave the draft for a few months and come back to it later in the year with a fresh pair of eyes and some new ideas.

Until then I am very much looking forward to getting back to short story writing and script writing.