When You’re Struggling…

I’m not telling you anything new when I say it can be a massive effort sometimes to stay motivated. The key is how to solve it.

When I’m struggling I take time out. I know that’s not always possible if you’re working under pressure but usually I’m okay at getting stuff done if there’s a certain amount of pressure. The problem comes when no one is there to press you to do something, when it’s all down to self-motivation.

For those who don’t know, for the last few months I’ve been working on a novel, something I’m choosing to do for my benefit alone. In other words, it’s totally down to me to get the thing written.

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Progress was going well both in terms of character development and plot, then, quite suddenly, I stopped. (You might have noticed because it’s been a while since I last blogged too). There wasn’t one particular reason for this sudden apathy, things were just getting too much and I was struggling to find the time. Now I’ve taken just over a week off writing.  I know this will set me back because I’ve lost the thread of the bits I was working on, but it was so completely and utterly necessary. Sometimes taking a break will do you more good than anything else. I now feel refreshed, revitalised, and have a whole bank of new ideas to bring to the table. I’m excited to get these new leads down on paper and even more excited to tell you all about them, but I won’t spoil the surprise just yet.

I’ll keep you posted. Over and out –

 

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The Garden, Part III

Read the first part here,
and the second part here.

The next day I resume my position in my chair. The clouds have knit together across the sky causing a gloom I don’t believe will never shift. It’s funny how much the weather seems to affect my mood. I flick through the latest copy of Gardener’s Weekly but soon the neighbours’ voices become intertwined with the words on the page and I pause to listen.

“Can’t you find some way to forgive me?” he asks.

It’s as if the conversation is continuing from yesterday. An electric blue butterfly catches my gaze.

“I don’t know. The kettle’s boiling, come inside.”

The butterfly, with all its exotic patterns and intricate filigree, flutters away.

I don’t know what’s going on between them. I’m not usually one to pry, and I am content in my little sanctuary, but I feel as if I need to know.

Watch this space for the next instalment.

1 Year, 5 Years, 10 Years

I now find myself only a couple of weeks away from graduating University. This is a scary time but what makes it even worse is that the question on everyone’s lips seems to be what am I going to do with my life.

In case you’re new to my blog I’ll spend a second filling you in. I’m a Literature and Creative writing joint honours student at the University of East Anglia, Norfolk, UK. It’s a three year course, most of which is spent reading and writing essays on books (and I don’t just mean classic texts but all manner of things). However, towards the end of the degree in particular I’ve had the chance to practice my fictional writing skills through taking more creative writing modules. I chose my university not just because the Creative Writing course at UEA is the top in the country but because I love Norwich as a city. And I wanted to study a joint degree so that I could practice not only my analytical skills but also my writing skills – which are probably more important in the real world, right?

So that’s me. Now that my years in education are nearly over I’ve got to start thinking about my next steps. I’ve always been one of those people who plan things meticulously (probably to the great annoyance of others who are not like me) and so I’ve always set myself goals. I wanted to get good GCSEs and achieve solid A Level grades, then get into UEA and receive a 2:1 or better for my efforts. All those targets were pretty easy to set. Education is arranged to push you through to the next stage, it’s effectively done for you, so it’s all pretty simple to plan. Now the world is my oyster and I don’t have a clue how to plan the next bit on my own.

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Where do I see myself in 1 year from now?

1 year isn’t actually a very long time. I see myself living at home and working. That doesn’t sound very interesting I know but after moving away (300 miles away) for 3 years I feel like I’ve lost touch with not just friends but where I come fro. I’d love to spend some time reconnecting whilst earning some savings. Maybe I’ll try and spice things up with some summer plans, who knows.

Where do I see myself in 5 years?

In 5 years time hopefully I’ll be well on the way to having a successful career. 5 years sounds like long enough to get my foot in the door. I have quite a long list of places I’d like to visit – Paris, Venice, America, Iceland and India to name and few – and hopefully I’ll have managed to tick a fair few off. In fact I’d really like to spend some time working abroad, most likely America, but I’m not sure how to organise that yet. Hmmm.  The next thing is that I’d like to  have bought my own home by 2021 since paying rent is such a waste of money. Then I’ll decorate it with all manner of cute things and place Yankee candles in every room and have a huge bookcase library where I can store all my precious books. That’s domestic bliss right there.

Where do I see myself in 10 years?

After 10 years it’s really quite hard to say. It’s difficult to imagine myself as a 30/31 year old. I suppose the main thing is travel. By that time I hope to have seen a large proportion of the places on my list now. I’m sure I’ll add more with each passing year but it would be nice to have done the initial stuff by the time I reach my thirties. Hopefully I’ll be living and working somewhere far more spectacular than Taunton so I’m surrounded by interesting people and places to write about. I’d like to have at least one novel written by the time I’m 30 and maybe have it published, who knows. Perhaps I’ll have read 1,000 books on Goodreads too, that would be wonderful. More than anything though I hope to be happy. That’s all anyone can really wish for in life, to be wonderfully, irrevocably happy.

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Writing a Dissertation on Fairy Tales

I’ll admit now (rather guiltily) that I’ve had over a month away from the blog, and it literally feels like forever. Initially I chose to have a break because the deadline for my dissertation was quickly approaching, then I moved back home and decided to continue the break whilst I job hunted. Then other things took over. I’ve had family visit and really got into my running – beat my personal best today (yay!) Now for the important stuff.

Dissertation

Writing a dissertation was easily the most time consuming and stressful part of my whole degree, in fact, of my whole academic experience thus far. I don’t know about other Universities or subjects outside of Literature but this was my experience:

The first step is choosing a topic. Most University tutors warn you to only opt in for a dissertation if there is a topic you are extremely passionate about. Maybe you want the chance to take something you’ve studied before further or maybe you want to work a subject into your degree that isn’t already available. This is good advice: I didn’t follow it. I chose to write a dissertation just because I felt like it would ‘complete’ my degree, for want of a better word. I did it because lots of other people did it and because that’s what I thought third year was meant to be about.

As it turned out I did find a topic, but it wasn’t the topic I initially planned for. I’m a big Angela Carter fan and studying at UEA opened up a world of resources that other students across the country wouldn’t have access to. Then I realise just how many people had written criticism about Carter’s work. I decided there was probably nothing original I could say about The Bloody Chamber and so moved towards a dissertation about the canonical tales. Yes, there’s loads written about them too, but when you consider the number of tales the Grimm Brothers wrote alone, let alone Perrault, Basile and those in The Arabian Nights, I was sure I could find an original angle to explore a unique grouping of canonical tales. I can’t say fairy tales have always been a passion of mine, in truth they’ve only really been on the periphery of my knowledge, but through this process I have discovered a new interest (and thank God for that – imagine setting out to write a research paper on a topic you soon found you hated!)

The next thing to mention is that no one prepares you for the amount of research involved. Okay, I knew there was going to be a lot of reading, being a Literature student I’m pretty used to a hefty reading pile, but wow. I spent pretty much all of my Christmas break and then another 6 weeks at Uni reading critical books cover to cover before putting pen on paper.

When I did start writing I started with Chapter 1. If essay writing has taught me anything over the years it’s to write the Introduction last, else you don’t know what you’re introducing. After I’d completed both my chapters (only a couple of weeks before the deadline) I received feedback that the argument got lost along the way. This took DAYS of rewriting to sort out. Then I had to write a conclusion – and I still to this day don’t really understand what a conclusion is meant to say. It’s a waste of words to repeat yourself but you shouldn’t include any new information. Hmmm.

The next problem was the word count. Who knew that 8,800 words could be so, so short? I believe most undergrad dissertations are 10,000 words and I’m sure that would have been far easier to cope with. Overall I probably had to cut about 1,500-2,000 words and that’s tough. It feels as though you’re deleting good content that could be scoring you marks.

In the last couple of days before the thing was due I must have reread all 8,766 words about 7 times. I’m definitely not a fan of proofreading my own work and this was exhausting.

Then there was the printing fiasco (not a particularly interesting story so I’ll leave that out but it’s safe to say that technology is not my friend.)

On reflection, I’m glad I wrote a dissertation. It’s nice to have a bound piece of work to be proud of. It’s nice to think 3 months’ work can be compiled into a real something, not an essay or snippet of analysis, but what is essentially a chapter of an academic text. Just be warned if you’re thinking of writing one in your third year – there will be break downs, there will crying and sleepless nights – that just goes with the territory.

The Garden, Part II

Read the first part here.

It’s a Friday afternoon and I’m sitting in my chair, a straw hat firmly atop my head to keep the sunlight at bay. Sparrows flutter in and out of their nest and bees hop from one milky buttercup to the next, but that’s not what holds my attention. There are voices on the breeze. One the jagged tones of a man’s speech, the other a woman’s, bright as a dropped gem. Some of the words blend together, a myriad of textures overlapping. I uncross my legs and lean forwards.

“Why would you do it?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

A door slams and the words are pinched from the air. I turn back to the swallows. The life of a bird must be so easy. I envy them and their simplicity.

Watch this space for the next instalment.

The Garden

I push open the gate, the white paint flaking off in chunks, and walk into the garden. I remember when the lawn used to be freshly trimmed, now it’s an overgrown haven for voles and mice. They scurry about beneath the foliage, the leaves trembling as they pass. Birds nest in the trees overhead. When they hatch I will watch as the mother regurgitates food for them. When they are strong enough I will watch as they make their first attempts at flight. I watch everything from my garden chair. It’s a deck chair really, one of those pink and white stripe ones meant for the beach, but I make the rules here. This is my safe place. This is my sanctuary. This is my Eden.

Seasonal Creativity – My Writing

Apparently seasonal creativity is a thing. Artists – of all descriptions – apparently have periods of creativity that align with the seasons. Productivity increases in certain months and lessens in others. It’s different for everyone when these peaks are, and I suppose it depends on what kind of material you are trying to produce (I’m just assuming here that gothic literature for example would come easier in the depths of winter with a blustering storm outside your window).

Seasons

For me writing comes more naturally when I’m happy and my happiness is undoubtably greater in summer months. I love feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, having longer lighter evenings to spend with friends, day trips to wonderful places like the Valley of the Rocks etc. Being cold and damp from the rain all the time (I live in the UK, it’s always raining) isn’t a pleasant experience.

Now that Spring is finally upon us – which incidentally coincides with me finishing my degree- I’m ready to begin writing again. I haven’t exactly taken a break but everything I’ve been doing has been for coursework and my dissertation. Now, with the evenings getting longer and a big bank of spare time coming up, I want to start writing for me again.

It may be ambitious but I want to write something longer. I want to write a novel, maybe a novella, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ll keep you all posted! xoxo

Newspaper Feature

Now I know this isn’t anything to brag about but since I’ve just worked out how the link works, and it’s proof of my writing being out there in the big, wide world, I thought I’d share it on my blog. Just a couple of weeks ago a short story I wrote was featured in the student newspaper at my University. If you’d like to read my piece simply turn to page 12. Enjoy.

 

My Writing Journey

Writing is something I have always wanted to do. When I was little and mummy asked me what I wanted to do with my life I answered I wanted to be an author (I also wanted to be a pop star and model on the side but let’s face it, no one is that talented).

Writing

I admit I wasn’t much of a reader when I was at school. I liked books but they took me such a long time to get through I got frustrated with them. I even struggled to read the Harry Potter series – although let’s face it, JK Rowling doesn’t exactly write manageable stories for child readers, as original and fantastical as they are. I didn’t start reading until out of the blue I decided I wanted to study English Literature at A level – when I was already in my second year, may I add, and had to do it at double the speed. A Level English Literature isn’t exactly heavy going when it comes to reading, but it gave me a good start. During the whole course I only read Jane Eyre, The Great Gatsby, Measure For Measure, Macbeth, Atonement, Lord of the Flies and Never Let Me Go, alongside a handful of metaphysical poetry and the dreaded Carol Anne Duffy. (Someone take over as Poet Laureate PLEASE).

Then I chose to study English Literature and Creative Writing at University. In 2013 I found myself at UEA, the home of creative writing in ‘the city of Literature’, as Norwich is known. With Angela Carter, Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro all alumni how could I fail?

The journey I have been on over the last three years has been quite remarkable. My writing in my first year showed all the typical beginners mistakes, but then, in my second year, I had an amazing teacher. That was the pivotal point where everything changed. I got vital criticism on my work. In Creative Writing class we ‘workshop’, we read each other’s work and pluck it to pieces. People ask ‘why’ not just about your characters, their motives and reasoning, your plot points and overall structure, but about your specific word choices, syntax, grammar and punctuation – the whole shebang. The pieces I turned in as coursework weren’t groundbreaking but I was growing as a writer, I was learning, and that’s more important than anything. This year, what with my dissertation and the arrangement of my modules, I haven’t had a lot of Creative Writing classes, but still I have learnt a lot about my personal writing process.

Necessary to good writing is copious amounts of reading. Obviously my degree had me reading approximately 50 novels a year, but even that isn’t enough. Doing a Literature Degree also has your reading specific ‘types’. You find you’re suddenly an expert on Tolstoy, Austen and the Brontës, but what about contemporary fiction? This is what I’m now ploughing my efforts into in my spare time. Hopefully with this bank of knowledge within me my writing will grow every day.

The next thing is practice. Not a day goes by that I don’t write something, even if it’s rubbish. Sometimes that rubbish will trigger a better idea, sometimes it can be edited into something worthy, and sometimes it needs to go in the waste paper basket, but it’s all good practice.

My degree is over in just two months and I can’t wait to get started on what life has to offer. Hopefully I will have just as much time for writing when it’s all done as I do now, but I somehow doubt it. Nevertheless I will continue to make an effort and I will continue to learn and to grow. Hopefully within a year or two I will be ready to send something to an agent. We’ll see.

 

Common Spelling Mistakes and How to Remember Them

Maybe it’s just me but I feel like spelling mistakes are becoming more and more frequent and as a result, more and more annoying. Here’s some that really get on my nerves.

Spellings

Definitely and defiantly are two different words. Definitely is doing something for definite. Defiantly is being bold and disobedient.

There, their and they’re. I can’t believe people still get this wrong. I learnt this is Primary School. ‘Look over there.’ ‘That is their pencil.’ ‘They’re being mean.’ This last one is short for they are. That’s not even the same word.

Bare means naked, but to bear is to carry something. A bear is also a brown furry animal, but most people keep that one straight. If you can’t bear to remember it all, just imagine a lumbering grizzly carrying a heavy load, and you’ll bear this knowledge with glee!

Tomorrow. One ‘m’, two ‘r’s. Because you’re doing it on the morrow.

Necessary. I have a good pneumonic for you. Never eat cake, eat salmon sandwiches and remain young.

Lose and loose. ‘I’m scared I’ll lose the race.’ ‘My trainers are tied too loose.’

Your and you’re. Much like there, their and they’re, I don’t know how people get this wrong. They’re completely different words. ‘Is that your handbag?’ ‘You’re so thoughtful.’  You’re is an ellipsis of you are. Get it right.

It’s and its. It’s is another contractions. It’s is only used for it is. Its is possessive. ‘The dog loves its toy.’

To, two and too. ‘Let’s go to the park.’ ‘What about you two?’ ‘Yes, we’ll come too.’ Too means as well and two is a number.

Weather and whether. ‘Is the weather supposed to rain or shine?’ ‘I don’t know whether or not to go for a bike ride.’

I think I could actually go on forever so I’ll call it a night. Sorry for the rant. Over and out –