Tuesday, 18 June 2013

WHY WRITERS NEED A NOTEBOOK.


Almost anything can spark an idea, but as many writers know – if you don’t write down that idea while it’s fresh in your mind, it can easily have taken wing by the time you reach home. Today many of us use electronic devices of some kind or another to write, but one important tool which shouldn’t be neglected is the humble notebook.

A notebook can be any size, although one small enough to carry around in a pocket or bag is useful. I have half a dozen because at one point I kept leaving my notebook at home. (I can tell you exactly how long it takes to race from my favourite coffee hangout to the nearest stationary shop.) Some writers like to indulge themselves and invest in the luxury end of the market and there is a certain gratification in opening a notebook whose cover is an ornately designed piece of art, but currently a 50p notebook suits me fine. So whenever I go out these days, I always check that I’ve packed those two essential items, my trusty notebook and a couple of pens – don’t rely on one, it can run out.

Developing the habit of jotting down observations and descriptions of people and places in your notebook is worthwhile cultivating. A good exercise to practice when you’re outside – the garden, the park, the beach, wherever – is to spend about ten minutes or so writing down what you see, hear and smell.  Notice any actions taking place, the different shades and shapes of objects; are there clouds in the sky, what does the air feel like on your skin (this may be easier in seasons where the weather is not too inclement)? Try to create a written snapshot of what you see. Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation, think like an impressionist painter, it’s all about the moment.

Another use for a notebook is as a diary. Diaries can be a way to explore your emotions and develop a deeper awareness of your internal monologue because when you write, you take much from your own life experience. Both Virginia Woolf and Somerset Maugham kept notebooks which they found invaluable for different reasons.  Maugham because he intended to use what he wrote as a resource for later use, and Woolf often recorded observations about her own writing process.

Notebooks are also good for morning writing, another practice advocated for improving your writing. The theory is that by writing as soon as you wake you are still in contact with that part of your mind which dreams and are able to access your subconscious more easily. Morning writing is freewriting without clustering or a prompt. (This practice needs discipline – groping for a notebook on a dark winter’s morning and simply trying to function without coffee didn’t work for me – but I still do my best writing when I’ve made it downstairs to the warm kitchen - after that coffee!)

The news, wherever you get it from, radio, tv, twitter – even a newspaper, is an endless source of ideas. A story needs tension and conflict and you’ll find plenty in any newcast. You can use your notebook to jot down and collect ideas for later development and, even if you never expand or use much of what you put down, the act of observing and noting down items which interest you are grist for the mill of your writer’s imagination. 

A notebook is for you to use how you wish: freewriting, diary, morning writing, character sketches, beginnings and expansions of ideas, planning the chain of events for your novel – anything and everything. I know that for me, over time, my notebook has become an invaluable tool in my writing journey.

Writing Update.
I’m wondering whether to reduce from two blogs a week to one. Writing the novel and posting a blog twice a week has worked well so far, although everything takes longer than I imagine as research and the gear shift my internal editor makes when I hit the ‘Preview’ button can mean a lot of tweaking . You’ll note the use of the word ‘imagine’ as opposed to 'planning’. Planning isn’t a word I use for time management as this is a skill which I need to acquire because social media interactions also eat up time in the day. I definitely feel the need to ease up and figure out what works best.

My thanks to Paula Grapf for posting a link to a great article where the recommended time for social media was half an hour in the morning and again in the evening, and to  BV Bharati for her post on 'Followers and +'s' which is sharp and funny. 

Today’s Haiku:
SLEEP
siren dreams entice
heavy sleep weights my eyelids –
a losing battle

Useful links:
The generous Adrianna Joleigh is hosting my writer's surgery, so if you have any writing queries, please send them to Teagan K’s Writing Surgery at: writerssurgery@gmail.com
Check out Adrianna’s great website at: adriannajoleigh.blogspot.com/        

Reading Recommendations:
http://amzn.to/18SbSaG  Gold Dragon Haiku  - my first attempt at publishing poetry!

Join me on Twitter at: teagankearney@modhaiku

To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.

Friday, 14 June 2013

ACCESSING IDEAS: FREEWRITING



Writers need ideas. Even when we’re busy expanding one idea into a short story, poem or novel, there’s a little part of our brains looking ahead to what we’ll do next. Generating ideas is a natural course of action for writers, and they can be sparked by almost anything, but even the most creative people sometimes can get a little stuck.

Freewriting is a way to tap into your creativity by putting aside any expectations and simply letting ideas flow.

Named by Ken Macrone, freewriting was widely used by Peter Elbow, (Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts) who wrote a number of influential books about writing. Simply put, the method involves being given a prompt word or phrase and then writing down the first words or phrases which spring to mind - without stopping to think or bother about spelling, grammar, syntax etc.

The following method was developed by Lusser Rico in her book, Writing the Natural Way, and is taught on a number of writing courses.

Step 1: Clustering
Clustering is a way of visually ordering your instinctive responses to a prompt in the form of a spider diagram.Taking a clean page, write your prompt word in the centre and, using arrows or lines to connect with the prompt, write down any word which springs to mind. (In the diagram below you can see I started off with five words - but you can put as many as you want.)

The next step is to take one of the words you’ve written down around your centre prompt and continue to free associate until you run out of words. Then repeat this process until your page is covered with words and lines radiating out from the centre like a spider’s web. If at any point an image or memory is sparked by the prompt, run with it.  If one of those words takes you off at a tangent, you go with it and follow where that leads. 
The advice is generally to spend three to five minutes on a cluster. You may never use, or be interested in much of what you put down but you may find you have the glimmerings of an idea, or even the template for a story or poem. Don't worry - clustering is not the end product – it’s a way in.

Step 2: The Focussed Freewrite
This is a more conscious  step as you choose subject matter which stems from anything in the cluster that appeals to you. Don’t edit or try to be coherent – that’s not the aim – the aim is to access your subconscious. Depending on your own particular style of writing, a freewrite can read like a stream of consciousness or be more organized. I was once advised by a tutor not to edit my freewrites; all I could do was protest that I hadn’t. What was on the page was exactly how it came out!

Spend five to ten minutes on the focused freewrite – although there are no rules here. If you find yourself with the beginnings of a short story or poem, run with it because finding inspiration is your purpose with this activity. 



Here’s the freewrite I developed out of the above cluster:
Jenny shivered in the doorway squeezing herself into the shadows. Thunder. She started to count. One and two and... Lightning forked across the sky. The heart of the storm was two miles away. She tensed as she thought she heard his footsteps, but it was only the loud thump thump of her own heart.

I have tightened this a tad – was unable to help myself knowing others would read it, but not a lot and I can see some potential for development as a thriller of some kind, maybe a teenage runaway or a supernatural tale or whatever.

Generally no one but you reads your freewrites. You can keep a file of any freewrites you might want to develop further – they make a great resource.

Prompt Words
Some people prefer concrete objects (tea, dress, boots, bank, bankrupt) others prefer emotions or themes (love, conflict, friendship, happy, sad etc.).  A few summers ago I was doing daily freewrites and got stuck for prompts so I’d open the dictionary and without looking down, stab downwards with my finger picking a random word. I ended up with some very odd prompts!

Writing Update
Editing the nano novel is chugging along, blog is getting written, managing to Tweet, still struggling with social media demands although I will persevere! Other resolutions – need to up my techno skills as I want to add links and stuff...

Today’s Haiku:
Moroccan Berbers
lay their carpets in the snow -
annual cleansing

Adrianna Joleigh, a kind and generous co-member of the Support a Writer Google+ community, is hosting Teakan K’s Writing Surgery where I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about your own writing or writing in general. 
Send your writing queries to: writerssurgery@gmail.com
Answers will be posted as soon as possible – I promise - on: http://bit.ly/11dD1zQ


Check out the lovely Adrianna's site: http://adriannajoleigh.blogspot.com/

If you don’t already receive Randy Ingerson’s ezine, I’d advise you to do so. He gives great information on planning (Snowflake method), writing (The Perfect Scene) and marketing (current article on how to verify your copyright on Google+). His latest newsletter has really saved me from my lack of time management with his article on organization. He’s hit the nail on the head for me as far as this topic goes. 
Here’s the link to Randy’s newsletter – they’re free. Scroll down the page to find the latest ezine.
http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/ezine/

Reading Recommendations:
Gold Dragon Haiku by Teagan Kearney - my own book of traditional and modern haiku. http://amzn.to/18SbSaG   
Join me on Twitter at:
teagankearney@modhaiku
To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

WHY ASPIRING WRITERS SHOULD TAKE A CREATIVE WRITING COURSE.




A.M. Homes, winner of this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction with her novel, May We Be Forgiven, completed her Masters in Fine Arts at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop; Joe Dunthorpe (Submarine, Wild Abandon) won the Society of Authors' Encore award and studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia; Anne Enright, Booker prize winner and author of The Gathering is another ex-graduate of the University of East Anglia’s Creative Writing Course; S. J. Watson wrote a novel, which later became his best selling novel Before I Go to Sleep, during the  six months of 2009 on the Faber Academy's inaugural Writing a Novel course. 

I think you get the picture. Of course, it’s unrealistic to think that by taking a course you will automatically arrive at a point of genius, or that it’s impossible to write a book without taking a course because there is plenty of evidence that demonstrates this can be done.

Yet being able to write a sentence and having a story to tell still doesn’t guarantee you the ability to write a good book that others will want to read. There is the craft aspect to writing. So here are six good reasons to commit yourself to taking a creative writing course.

1. You’ll receive a professional critique of your work from someone who is interested in seeing you make progress. Your tutor will have professional qualifications, been in the business of writing longer than you and have a wealth of experience. You’ll hear what’s working and most importantly, where you need to improve. 

2. You meet and make friends with other writers. You have the opportunity to connect with people who will give you feedback on your writing long after the course is over. You can make friends for life. 

3. A good writing course is a safe place to start showing your writing to others and gain confidence in your abilities. It is hard to put your work out into the public arena, but if you’re serious about your writing, it’s a step you have to take at some point. Most courses include peer critiques and you learn what aspects to cover when giving feedback.

4. Meeting course deadlines for assignment submission dates is a great way to develop what’s called the ‘writerly habit’. You have to write. You can’t put it off (well, yes, you can - but you paid for the course and you want to write, don’t you?) so you push yourself and get that story finished.

5. You have the opportunity to try out other forms of writing as many courses cover more than just fiction. There are often sections on life writing (biography/autobiography), poetry and some offer the chance to try your hand at play or screenwriting. I know several writers who discovered hitherto unknown abilities in areas they would never have attempted otherwise, and which they’ve continued to develop after their courses were over.

6. All those assignments and exercises you’ve done are now a resource for your future writing. After your course is finished, you can pick up and rework those stories, taking on board your tutor’s critiques and expanding them beyond the assignment word counts – which by the way is one of the quickest ways to hone your editing skills. You’d be surprised at how writing a short story of 1,000 words will eliminate any tendency towards verbosity. 

I know attending a creative writing course at university – like those mentioned at the beginning of this post - is something that most people, for reasons of time, money, location and other life commitments aren’t able to consider. But there are any many local colleges which run excellent courses, and there are online correspondence courses which you can fit into your life. 

Taking a creative writing course doesn’t guarantee you success either, but what it does do, apart from the advantages listed above, is send your subconscious the message that you’re taking this writing business seriously.

Writing Update.
My thanks to everyone who took advantage of the free promotion and downloaded my ebook Gold Dragon Haiku from Amazon, especially the members of Google+ Support a Writer community who really did support my efforts. Thank you Alana, Adrianna, Frank, Peter and everyone else who tweeted and gave support. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that your work is being read. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

I’m still waiting for my second beta reader to get back to me, which is fine as I’m not yet ready to start again. I’m enjoying editing last year’s nano effort. It’s interesting to come back to a piece of writing after seven months. Sometimes I’m pleased and I think, wow, did I really write that? And then again I come across another section and blame that one on the nano.

NEW VENTURE!!
I received an offer from the generous Adrianna Joleigh to place a link on her website to my blog. Out of the conversation which followed an idea was hatched and I’m really pleased to announce (wow, that sounded official) the launching of a new service, hosted on Adrianna’s website, to anybody who wishes to use it: 
Teagan K’s Writing Surgery.
You may well wonder what is a writing surgery? Well, the goal is to offer help and guidance by providing a place where you can ask questions – of any kind – about your own writing or writing in general and I will try to answer and help you out. If I’m unable to sort your problem, I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction. 
However, I regret this doesn’t include editing or critiquing. As a writer and blogger myself, there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to read and give critiques on others’ work.
I promise to try and answer your questions as soon as I can. Please be patient.
So, thank you again, Adrianna, and writers, send in your questions to:
writerssurgery@gmail.com
http://adriannajoleigh.com/2013/06/11/teagan-kearneys-writers-surgery-qa/

The Open University is one of the greatest online educational institutions and runs several brilliant online Creative Writing courses. There are online forums, the opportunity for face to face tutorials, and tutors who are available for phone/email contact throughout the course.

http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/a215/index.shtml



This is an interesting article featuring some of the writers mentioned above: 
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jan/18/what-creative-writing-course-taught-me

Join me on Twitter at:
teagankearney@modhaiku

To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.

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Apart from writing, I'm compiling a bucket list of places I'd like to  visit...from Iceland to Hawaii and onwards....
         

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