Sunday, 22 June 2014

Writing Workshops

Yesterday I had the privilege of going to a writer's workshop. It's rare for the stars to align so that I can attend things like that - finding a babysitter for a whole day for four young children is hard enough in itself, plus it has to be local and affordable. This day was organised in a local library by Derbyshire's literature Development Officer, who sends out monthly newsletters by email to writers in Derbyshire, letting them know about opportunities like this one. If you want to receive her newsletter, her address is I'd recommend it - she also has details of writing groups, competitions and so on.

The writing exercises we took on were similar to ones I've done before at workshops, but that doesn't take away from how useful it is to focus your mind for a whole day on your ambitions, nor how fascinating it is to discuss what you've produced with others. For one exercise we wrote about a small selection of objects; the breadth of ideas was surprising - it's wonderful how differently minds work (and what a good job, too).

So here are the three biggest things I've brought away from it.

Firstly, the author who led the workshop, Emma Pass (who writes YA novels) talked about the structure of our plot and making sure that the obstacles our characters meet escalate in size. I was struck by this, as I think I may have failed at this in my current work in progress, so I'm going to be heading back to the post-its on that.

Secondly, when Emma talked about her journey to publication, I was astounded at the extent of rewriting required by agents and publishers, even after a manuscript has been accepted for publication. I knew that writers have to be prepared to rewrite and rework right up to the wire, but I didn't know that sometimes this involves major structural changes, such as changing endings or middles or getting rid of whole sub-plots. I'm chewing on this one. I'm not sure if it reassures me, that when I've done my absolute best, gone through rigorous rewrites and edits, had outside feedback, and finally have done all I can, that others will still help batter it into even better shape (which essentially I'd then have credit for!) or if the thought of all that rewriting, and the implication that you've not got it right even when you've done well is quite soul-destroying.

I'm going to take it as positive, actually. Anything that makes your writing better has got to be worth it, however painful and personally discouraging.

Thirdly, I brought away renewed commitment to those dreams of mine. It was a reminder to persevere, to make time for what I want; to keep on keeping on.

Oh, there was one other thing I brought away. I brought away copies of Emma Pass's intriguing novels. I'm looking forward to reading them - maybe you should buy one too!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Commitment to Writing

I just listened to this very interesting interview about writing with author AL Kennedy.

During the interview she talks about the need to commit one hundred per cent to the process, putting aside the fear of a broken heart when your work is rejected or 'not that good'.

It's an interesting insight into the mind of a successful and dedicated writer, and challenging, too. Do you really put sweat and effort into all your writing sessions, however short?

I remember writing one of my short stories for last year's challenge, and being gutted when it wasn't shortlisted because of the hours of polishing and the work put into crafting. Can I honestly say I'm working so hard on my current project, or am I dabbling in my comfort zone? Lots to think about!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Recipe for Trouble

I've read a lot lately about the use of photographs to inspire settings or characters. While writing my last story, I used to occasionally whip out my camera and take a few photos of places that seemed like they belonged in my story. So I was intending to do the same thing this time, aided and abetted by a fancy phone (much more subtle than the camera).

As with so many good ideas, it hadn't happened, and then we were in the park this week, and I saw a lady who struck me as being similar to a character of mine in looks. I wondered whether to snap a photo of her, and use aspects of her dress, especially, as inspiration. Luckily for me, with kids in tow, it was relatively simple to take a snap of her in the background of the 5 year old hanging upside down from the monkey bars.

I haven't decided yet whether to edit him out...!

The thing is, I did feel guilty doing it. It felt wrong because she didn't know (even though I will delete the photo when I've finished with it). I feel faintly guilty too that I'm not 'just' using my imagination...even though far more accomplished writers than I am have admitted using real people, in part, as inspiration.

I had visions of the woman in question (who did cast me one suspicious glance) storming over and accusing me of photographing her; wouldn't look good in court, would it? Though I'm pretty sure no laws were broken...!

I wonder if anyone else has used visual aids to plotting/writing? And what you think of snapping photographs of inspiring-looking strangers? Is that any more morally dubious than noting down their conversation in a notebook?