Thursday, 26 February 2009

Writing in libraries; writing away from home

Yesterday afternoon I took my laptop, notebooks and course notes and wrote in a library in the city for a few hours. I found the lack of internet distractions and the different location very conducive to work, and also made a few appearance notes and character sketches of some of the other visitors as part of one of my activities. Finally I am getting some ideas and images for the assignments in this course. I started on the second block yesterday and found it relied mostly on extended extracts from a very helpful and witty writing book. I think this, as well as the new setting, really freed up my imagination.

Tomorrow I leave for a weekend writing course in the country. It’s in a big house with extensive grounds, both beautiful and neglected and secret-garden-ish in places, on the outskirts of a small city. I know this because I have been there several times before for pottery, and this is my first trip for any other type of course there. I am, obviously, really looking forward to it, and it will be interesting to see how it contrasts with the OU course. Given that it is IRL not online I will have to meet actual other writers and probably show people my writing fresh on the page, for the first time ever. That could be nerve-wracking. From the course flyer, it looks as though it may be pitched more towards how to go about selling and publishing your work than the OU course, so I’m eager to find out how that plays out when I get there.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Shrove Tuesday

Seasonality - a good thing?

One thing I missed when I spent a lot of time in a tropical country was the lack of seasons in the weather. They had Dry: nine months of 25C during the day, 15C at night (this was at altitude, so not very hot); then they had Wet: same temperatures, but there was a cloudburst every afternoon at exactly 2:15 and then the streets would run with water for a couple of hours. No leaf fall season. Sky always either grey (clouded) or white with heat. Sun sets promptly at five-thirty in winter and six-thirty in summer. OK, the food and culture were great, but something was missing.

I love the greys of winter skies and the grey-greens of winter tree trunks, the tracery of branches and twigs reaching up to the sky when the light is barely there in the hush of December. I grew up in the country but not really plugged into the rhythms of the agricultural year, not being right in the midst of a farming community. There's some vestigial part of me that responds to it and misses it on some level, though, although I don't intend to leave the city anytime soon.

Now it's trying to be spring outside, some buds on the twigs of hedges and some crocuses under trees on flat lawns that get a lot of sun, on the days when we have sun. Today is the day to make pancakes, tomorrow ashes, then six weeks of contemplation and preparation, then feasting. I like this.

The last couple of months I have occasionally been cooking from a secondhand cookbook listing food for the seasons. Serendipity being another thing I like, I was particularly pleased to find this book in a charity shop on the south coast when I was supposed to be shopping for a cheap fancy dress outfit for a New Year's party. My first boyfriend's mother used to have a copy, although as a vegetarian at the time it wasn't much use to me. My grandmother also had one. I haven't gone so far as to make marmalade this February, although the photos of amber and jewelled jars of the orange stuff made me wonder about sterilising a few of the jars hanging around waiting to hold paintbrushes and turning out some mini-presents. I have tried stews and casseroles appropriate to unusual amounts of exactly the right kind of snow, and some fish dishes that are far more hearty than the usual healthy steamed white summer evening fare.

I don't usually eat sweet stuff except for special occasions anyway, so Lent is not about giving up chocolate for me, but when we get to Easter it'll be good to get into it for a while. I did make pancakes today, remembering as usual that they are OK but nothing special. (Of course that wasn't the point, the idea used to be to use up anything luxurious like butter. Favourite Mediaeval fasting fact: it was permissible to eat beavers on fish days as they lived in rivers and were therefore classified as fish.)

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Drawing again

I didn't write anything on Saturday, but I did manage to get to a life drawing workshop for the first time in about a year. My drawings were every bit as bad as you might expect after a lengthy break like that, especially as I had hardly drawn or painted anything, anywhere during the year.

But the ice is now broken.

The first pose was a near-featureless landscape with no conventional measuring points, which was a great way to start. There's some incorrect scaling and foreshortening going on in there, but I decided to post the pictures anyway to spur me on to do much better next time.

Today, writing: a plan for a story and a few hundred words of one part of it.

I'm not sure how the OU course is going - there are tons of little assignments, so many it's hard to keep track of them in your head. I guess I just have to keep showing up at the keyboard and seeing what happens.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Keeping going

I'm still trying to find the right mix of spontaneity and planning. Several of the exercises on this course suggest sitting down at the computer (or notebook etc.) and just writing in one form or other. Others suggest looking at a newspaper or turning on the radio and then picking from the stories you find there, writing one of them from the point of view of one of the people involved or using them as a jumping-off point.

I am also considering how to adapt Morning Pages to serve my new routine. Ever since I heard about these in Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way I have been using them (on an off) for regular journalling. (There's a brief definition on Cameron's site) Along the way they helped me to download all the emotions from some very stressful projects, and to find out what I really thought about making art and why I got blocked doing that so often. I have never really had fictional inspirations when using them, and I'd like to change that. The last few days I have taken time to describe a few things I have seen on my walks, or images from the train window, so that I have some material which could turn from description to mood to narrative, maybe (fingers crossed).

Even if that doesn't happen, the morning pages are still good. I feel more serene when I am in the habit of doing them, and since my normal default mode is not serene at all, in fact bears comparison with headless chickens, that is no bad thing.

With a lot of small sessions of writing, I am hoping I shall patch together enough material to complete my assignments on time.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

If I have to, I won't

I've realised that the moment I have a writing assignment, rather than just an idea or two, or an inviting blank page in front of me, (yes, some of them actually are inviting) my flow of ideas dries up.

I think it's the syndrome that if something is optional, I can use it as yet another form of goofing off, so I get ideas about a novel set in a post-apocalyptic future when I am supposed to be designing a database. Tell me my job is to write a novel about a post- etc., though, and I start creating databases right left and centre, not a charred landscape in sight.

The way out is probably to allow myself lots of time to mull over ideas, and keep a notebook with me almost all the time to capture them. I am not going to be able to procrastinate and then cram for a creative writing course - especially not when I have ample opportunity to dither over a Greek course.

And some of the assignments! Describe something happening in a city street from the point of view of a child. Great, except (i) I grew up in the country, so none of my own memories are of cities, (ii) I was an only child and have no children myself, nor nieces nor nephews etc. in this country, so don't interact with children very often, (iii) I didn't really get to be a child myself, being more of a four-foot high carer for incapable adults than a kid. Apart from that, then, no problem.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

OU "Start Writing Fiction"

The OU course is about to start officially, but the website and forums are already live. I've started looking through the course materials. The main thread of the course consists of five blocks on the website with small activities interspersed throughout. There is also a print anthology and an audio CD of author interviews, where the compilers have divided the content up into sets of responses to single questions, e.g. you get to hear how three or four authors began writing, or how they divide up their working day. The information on getting started with writing at the beginning of the course is all common sense once you've heard it but, not having had any instruction before, it's still useful to me to get a simple introduction.

I had a few days about a week ago where I wrote every day, mostly little bits and pieces in response to the OU questions. This week has been very unproductive, partly due to being busy with other things and partly due to a piece of bad financial news which had a huge impact on my creativity, peace of mind, ability to sleep etc. etc. I am now back in a more rational mode, mostly, trusting I shall get out of this one, that I still have all the skills I had before The Big News hit, and so on. I tend to suffer from a feeling that I am endlessly chasing my tail: trying to get things done in computing, art and writing as well as being very active in my faith, working to get much fitter as it has positive ramifications in all aspects of my precarious health, and fighting procrastination and this deep-seated loathing I have of any and all paperwork and administration.