Saturday, 28 March 2009

Reading for comprehension

-- a ubiquitous insult on the web if someone thinks their crystal clear point is being misinterpreted by an opponent, which reminds me that I tend to read ultra-fast for "story" rather than to slow down and savour prose, or figure out how a writer is achieving their effects, including making me want to find out what happens. These days, I am reading a lot less fiction, and writing a lot more. I think what I need to do next is to spend more time figuring out these effects and constructions so that I can learn from them.

I took about ten days off writing - completely: OU activities and journals and everything prose-related - after handing in the first assignment. I've just re-started, and raced through a couple of weeks' worth of activities in a few days. The course so far: a little disappointing in its interactive component, in that very few of the people on the course list seem to participate at all in the online discussions (which are a bulletin board format, so can be accessed at any time).

I've learned a fair bit already and some of the suggestions trigger ideas immediately, others not so. I am lucky in that the second assignment is one piece of continuous prose, which suits those of us whose shopping lists tend to be longer than the OU standard word limit for single questions. The assignment is essentially to respond to a list of words - concrete items like "a comb" and abstract nouns like "abandonment". I read through the list, thought, "Hmm," went to bed, and couldn't sleep. About 3am I gave up and started writing about the ideas I had.

Abandonment, unlike the previous "child on a city street" assignment, gives me a lot to work with. I am choosing to write in the persona of a woman abandoned as a baby in the classical dramatic circumstances, on the steps of a city centre church. Although her subsequent adoption has gone well, she wonders about all the things most children take for granted: roots, looking like your parents, where her musical talent has come from.

Talking of churches, I was out photographing and drawing one midweek, for its website. The drawings were quite light pencil, and won't work online - they were for ideas and possible use elsewhere. The photos were designed to give me a set of background and incidental images to work with.

I am also learning Greek at the moment, and have an exam in a few weeks. If past history is anything to go by, I shall probably get increasingly nervous about it.

This is not with the OU, it's a real life evening class, and a very good one. We have been studying for nearly two terms. I did some Latin at school, and I've learned Spanish as an adult, so I am not completely new to the idea of complicated grammar. I also keep hearing that Greek is supposedly easier than Latin (not sure why?) and also that this form of Greek, Koine or New Testament Greek, is the easiest there is. There still seems to be rather a lot of it to take in.

On the plus side, although there are five or six thousand different words in the New Testament, ninety percent of the actual occurrences are of a much smaller core of six hundred words, so a lot of modern textbooks concentrate on making sure you are familiar with those.

Doing this has already proved illuminating. Greek, for example, has several different ways of giving an order or suggestion, all of which tend to get flattened into one form of imperative in English, as it can be hard to get across all the nuances in translation.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

First deadline

I have handed in my first OU assignment. I have to say I absolutely hated the first question - which involved writing in the voice of a child. I don't have children, or nieces or nephews in this country, or friends with small children. I've never taught children or worked with them. I grew up as the only child in a house in the middle of nowhere, miles away from the nearest other child, and I didn't exactly get to be a child much myself. All in all, writing as a child is not exactly the most obvious assignment for me.

When I was a child, I read voraciously (still do). That was one of the things that got me through being on my own, but it also meant I lived through books rather than real experience some of the time.

On the weekend writing course, a lot of people said they had 'always' written. Looking back on it, I guess that is true of me too, but I hadn't really thought about it that way. I wrote stories as a kid, and started a journal when I was about fifteen. That had to be kept hidden from family, and later partners, and for most of my twenties and thirties that was all I wrote. I would occasionally get an idea for a short story, and write it out longhand on file paper over a few days, then that would be it for a couple of years. It took several years of doing morning pages, on and off, before I started finding myself writing fiction.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

First assignment

I am battling with my first eTMA for the OU course (electronic Tutor Marked Assignment in OU-speak). Yesterday I struggled valiantly with it by reading two novels completely unrelated to my chosen subject matter in one day instead of getting on with any writing as such. Today I opened up the files to find much what I expected - I have three five-hundred word pieces to write, and I already had a draft of the first one and nothing but ideas for the other two. I now have a painfully short draft for the second and too much for the third, but at least there is something there which I can build on.

Recently, writing has been coming quite naturally, but my only ideas have been for pieces of my own - patching further incidents into a novella-length thing I started a couple of months ago, mainly. Once again, I have a "compulsory assignment = block" problem. This didn't happen when I was away for the weekend, there, something would come up within a minute or two at most when the tutor announced the next question, even though there were ten or a dozen of these per day. I think the seriousness level is higher for me - only 3 lots of 500 words to showcase whatever skills I have.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Weekend writing course

I'm back from my weekend in a country house writing. This means I have now shown some of my work to other people, IRL, and lived.

I had a great time, met a set of very interesting characters, and did writing exercises and talked about writing almost non-stop for a few days. There was a very gentle introduction to reading out our writing: starting with a few sentences about why we were on the course, followed by a selection of favourite words and then a paragraph using one of them.

I've belatedly 'remembered' (i.e. let myself remember) how I always thought I 'wanted to be a writer' from approximately two feet tall and then realised writers generally showed their writing to other people. So that was the end of that, then: I'd been bullied pretty much from the word go at various schools, and the last thing I would ever feel safe doing would be to give out extra-effective ammunition in the form of handwritten keys to my inner thoughts.

The discovery that I can actually do this was made in tandem with being reminded that other forms of writing exist, besides fiction, and the suggestion that I might like to try some of them. We'll see.

I did a couple of OU activity exercises in an insomniac 1 a.m. moment too, meaning I am only about 13 behind.