Practice

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

It may be a shock to discover I’m not a massive fan of martial arts films so this quote is new to me. It worked so well for me today I thought I’d share it with you.

I’m trudging through the last part of my OCA module. Attitude is everything of course and I was aware I needed to approach my work in a positive way but I didn’t know what to do. When I found myself cleaning behind radiators, I figured I needed to stop avoidance tactics and face up to this last section. I flicked through Short Circuit and fell upon an essay by Claire Wigfall who talks in detail about how she creates her characters. I tried her technique and what do you know it’s worked. I’ve got a story rumbling around and characters that I want to find out about.

Character is what I am good at, what I enjoy reading and what I enjoy writing. People fascinate and terrify and I have an eye and ear for the details and oddities that make a person unique.

I realised what’s happened. I’ve been guided to try so many different styles (magical realism or sci-fi for example) and as a result I’ve lost sight of my characters. My initial thought was that I’d wasted the last few months. Perhaps not. Perhaps I’ve realised that an interesting story can only ever be built on an interesting, rounded character. No amount of quirky imaginative details will make up for a character that is laden with stereotypes. I knew this but I had become distracted by trying out new techniques and styles. I’m frustrated that I have wasted a bit of time but I’m happy that I’ve come back to such a basic truth.

Which brings me back to the wise words at the beginning of this post.

Try again. Fail better.

 

Oh my, two steps forward eighty-seven back. I started a post last week about how positive and invigorated  I felt following the poetry workshop with Bare Fiction. I didn’t finish it, but I wish I had because right now I could do with remembering how it felt to feel positive and invigorated.

I’ve had my feedback for my most recent assignment. It’s ok, but it’s the kind of feedback where you know the tutor has struggled to find some nice things to say. I know, I used to do the same. The thing is, her points are entirely right. I was bored of this story by the time I finished it,and it shows. I still have the feeling that I am standing on the edge, too scared to actually push myself to write honestly. I seem to default to a style that echoes the tales in Woman’s Weekly (nothing wrong with that, it’s just not where I want to be). Perhaps this is why I like poetry. I seem to move a little more freely, where I get all tangled up with short fiction.

I’m also struggling with the degree element. I’ve no desire for a qualification but I know I’m deliberately holding back so that I’ve got something to rework for the assessment. I made the mistake last year of revising to the best I could before each assignment, which meant I felt I couldn’t take my work any further when I had to submit for assessment. It’s tapping into my desire to complete and achieve, which is easier to work within than actually making the leap into creativity. That point where things scare me a little is occurring less frequently as I sink into the comfort of meeting learning objectives, and the gratification that gives. I think It might be time to stop working with OCA, I don’t feel I’m developing. To be honest, I learned as much from a two hour workshop as I did in six months study. Or perhaps I’m just in a sad fug of low confidence. A tiny bit of me wishes I’d never started this and was able to gain satisfaction from a lovely new dress or buying a fancy car.

Hopefully I’ll be in a better place next week, and I’ll be able to tell you about the good things. They seem a long way away at the moment.

Buses……

You know how things just gently work themselves out? It seems to be happening. A couple of posts back I wrote about my tricky start to the year, viruses, horribly dark mood, and a head that felt it would burst if I tried to make it think of one more thing. The virus is still here, and the black moods still pop their head up, but my brain seems to be more fertile and free. I’ve been reading some great poetry which has excited and inspired me. I find I have to give myself a kick to make sure I don’t stray into self pitying “I’ll never be that good ” frame of mind. Once I get over myself (only I control how I feel after all), I can flit and fly with the joy of reading new exciting work. The delightful consequence is that I’m writing more again. By giving myself permission to stop, I’ve given my mind freedom to ruminate and relish the thoughts and ideas that grow.

This book is amazing. It manages to give me a kick and hold my hand all at once. Wonderful stuff.

Combine this with receiving the fabulous book “How to be a Poet”, and the chance to take part in an online poetry reading/feedback session hosted by Bare Fiction magazine and I seem to a have a happy mix of opportunities. I’m terrified, but I’ve got to be brave. Putting myself out “there” is frightening. Burying myself in the false comfort of consumerism would be even worse.

OCA work is moving forward too.I’ve completed my penultimate piece for Writing Short Fiction with the help of a master proof reader (thank you Gill!) . It’s almost ready for submission and then it’s time to start the final part of the course. I’m also on the OCA thirtieth birthday celebration picture! Can you spot me ?

Read, like, share and comment. Interaction is good for me!

Magical tortoises

My latest module has been a joy to study. Uncovering the history of the short story, from early myths and fairy tales to the joy of magical realism and the simple beauty of post modernist work. Work for my degree covered many of these aspects, but never in relation to short fiction. I’ve read so many great stories, Gogol, Poe, Katherine Mansfield and Raymond Carver are just a few that spring to mind. I’ve also revisited my beloved Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who has a gentle yet fierce way of expressing the reality of oppression and of mental distress. Reading so much and so widely has given me a new excitement for the power of short fiction.

My own work for this module was a struggle. So much inspiration left me not sure where to start, as well as rearing the ugly notion of inadequacy. Writing is the only way through this and after dozens of false starts which saw me producing pale pastiches of my favourite stories, I’ve finally created something I like. Many of my stories focus on what I feel is a forgotten voice. There is a generation of silent,often compliant women who are at best ignored and at worst derided, with little understanding. The recent #metoo campaign has highlighted the scale and reality of sexual harassment and accepted abuse of others. Ensuing discussions are dominated and diluted by arguments based on a previous culture of silent acceptance and we seem to be faced with a situation where women are being pitched against each other and a weird scale of ‘seriousness’ is being developed. The reality and impact of daily abuse rarely attracts attention.Often it becomes so normal that we do just put up with it. It is these scenarios that populate my current short fiction.

I’ll see how successful I’ve been when it gets back from my tutor. And yes,this particular tale does feature a magic tortoise.

I’m reading and writing more poetry too. Two new books from Nine Arches Press are giving me great joy. I’m struggling with my health at the moment, averaging one/two ‘up’ days out of seven, which is much less than last year. The poetry in these two books is short enough to be manageable, and challenging enough to be satisfying. And the obvious consequence is that it sparkles up my poetry writing brain too. It’s incredibly frustrating not being able to do all the things I want to do, but I am determined not to give up, even though progress is so painfully slow.

Thank you for reading. Please comment or leave a like so I know you’ve seen this. Your waves and hellos cheer me on!

Sending peaceful thoughts.

Find out more about the wonderful Nine Arches Press here

http://www.ninearchespress.com/

Looking up

I’ve learnt a lot from my feedback for assignment three of Writing Short Fiction. It wasn’t as glowing as previous feedback, and looking back through what I had submitted I can see why. You may remember from previous posts that I’ve been struggling with everything lately. In hindsight I should have taken a break earlier, rather than pushing myself to beat a deadline that exists for no one but myself.

The main things I’ve learnt are

  • Don’t get distracted by form. The story has to be king.
  • Write what you know. Yes, I’m still trying to write in a way that I think is perhaps a little more clever, or literary. I need to stop it.
  • Be authentic.
  • Stop when I know I should stop.

I think I’ve read so many things saying there is no such thing as writers block and I should just write through it ( which I agree with), that I have tried to apply the same to M.E.. Foolish. As a wise woman said to me, “you rest your body, so you need to rest your mind”. Those who know me know my mind is full of four hundred and eighty-seven things at once, so this is a challenge. I have taken the challenge up, and now spend ten minutes each morning watching the birds from my window. Just watching the birds. Not thinking about things I wish I’d said, or what I need to put on the shopping list. Just watching the birds eat and flutter and fight and generally be wonderful. Pulling my mind back every time it wanders is hard, but I hope it will help me to learn to focus on one thing. Ridiculously, the only time I truly focus is when I write. Not resting stops me doing the one thing that means my mind is less fragmented.

I am seeing benefits already my brain seems to be coming back to itself. I’ve given myself a less punishing schedule for the rest of my course, and I hope that I will be writing well again soon. The nagging pressure of trying to succeed is still here ( as it should be), but I feel I have cleared a pathway that was getting overgrown.

Please comment, feedback, share and like at will.

Does your brain hurt ?

I can feel mine scrunching up, almost twitching with over-use.  The vast quantities of snow that covered Shropshire and the Gorge in particular have given me so  much time to write that I’ve managed to get myself in a bit of a pickle. I’ve always been one to push and pressurise (whilst maintaining an demeanour of not caring a jot), and I seem to have decided that the best way to tackle my degree is to race through the course in a bid to finish this module and get on to the next.

And then I had to stop. Nothing was making sense, all the reading was getting harder and I finally realised I was wasting my time. I had to give myself a talking to, and remind myself that the reason I am studying is not to get yet another piece of paper, but to be a better writer. The carrot of qualification is a powerful one, but ultimately meaningless. This is even more ridiculous when I consider that this section is on a subject I adore, is introducing me to a range of writers and leading me to revisit some of the work that has most influenced me. Racing through is making me feel rotten, dissatisfied and frustrated. It’s time to breathe, and to allow myself to enjoy what I am studying, to make the most of the opportunity. When I’ve decompressed a little, I shall write a few more posts about the stories I’ve read this week. They are stunning, and have shown me the art and beauty of short fiction.

In other news, I managed to get out to take some snow pictures, which was a wonderful thing. Being out, wearing the  unworn snow boots I bought in the excitement of the last snowy winter (2013), seeing my breath, being immersed in the bright chill of the wooded landscape, it was wonderful. I feel at home in winter.

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Coalbrookdale Pools ©kam

 

 

All in all, a time of learning, both from books and from the wise, interspersed with throwing snowballs for the cat.

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Unimpressed. ©kam

 

 

Missed me ?

 

Ooh, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve been doing birthday celebrations, which have been marvellous, but leave few spoons* for creativity, productivy, or any sort of ivity you care to consider.

Things have been happening in the background though. I’ve had feedback for my second piece for writing short fiction. It was a tricky one for me to write, simply because it was in danger of becoming autobiographical and taking the whole “writing as therapy” thing too far. I trimmed and trawled and wrestled it into a piece that I felt was useful for others to read. Two lines stood opt for me from my feedback. The first was. ‘Your narrator tells this story without mawkishness or self-pity. ‘I was so pleased about this. Mawkishness is the exact thing I strove to avoid in this story, I felt I owed it to the character to create a realistic account, not just a cry for sympathy.  The second sliver of joy was in this comment ‘Your character Tina stays with me.’ As my tutor accurately said, this is the exact response I want in a reader.

There are lots of areas for improvement. The narrative voice slips occasionally to sounding too sophisticated for a child, and my punctuation is still rather excitable. I’m so frustrated with the part of me that rushes the proof reading. I find it difficult, but  more than that there is an element of me that just wants to get the thing sent and get the feedback. By the time I submit a piece I’ve been working on it for a while, and am keen to move on to the next bit. But, and it’s a big but (I cannot lie), proof reading is an incredibly important part. If a competition judge or submissions editor has two pieces of equal creative merit, how will they choose? On technical skill and precision of language. Therefore, I’ve buried myself in Strunk and White and found the most flamboyant notebook I own to turn into a grammar guru. I hate it. But I need to do it.

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Punctuation is more fun with Flamingos.

 

In other news, I’m loving my current studies, all about Flash Fiction and I’ve had some cool information from Dynamo, but I think that is for another post.  Apologies to all my lovely Beta readers, I have been woefully slack in sending you work. It will be on its way soon, followed by a flurry of flash fiction for feedback. I do love to alliterate.

 

Thanks for reading, send me your grammar tips and please sign up, follow like and share on Facebook. Your support, interaction and feedback is invaluable.

*find out about spoons and being a spoonie here. I hate labels and little gangs,  but this is a handy way to explain an unexplainable life.

The Spoon Theory written by Christine Miserandino

 

Writing as therapy?

I find this time of year very tough. Many people dislike the dark nights, the pressure or chaos of Christmas, the juggling and jibing of relatives. For me, it’s the start of  what is the happiest and saddest time of the year. I hate it. Then hate myself for hating it and try to embrace and smile and cheer myself on, repeating and repeating that it’s no one else’s fault and I mustn’t bring them down.  I remind myself I have a warm home, food and some caring friends, and I am incredibly grateful for all this. I show my happiest face to the public, because that is what one does and I’d say seventy percent of the time I manage to maintain “up.”

The issue is the thirty percent, when the mantra of counting blessings doesn’t always work, it doesn’t ring true, when the fog of sadness is so dense it blinds me. To answer the title question, of course writing is therapy. The moments when words tumble out, unedited and unplanned are sometimes my only way of unraveling the knot of compliance I have created . It won’t often be good writing. It is often terrible. It is messy,self indulgent and confused but it will is real and it will is useful. Sometimes I review what I’ve written and have no idea what I was on about. Sometimes I know all too well and have to stop reading. Occasionally (very occasionally) I see something that goes past all the indulgent emotion and presents itself as being suitable to be fashioned into something decent.

Writing rooted in dark emotions is infinitely more interesting, than writing brimming with joy and light. Too much joy, makes me uncomfortable although I do enjoy all the happy stuff people post on social media, it’s nice to see smiley faces. In darker times I have a powerful need to identify, to feel less alone in my emotions.A well written account of an emotion or experience with does this, regardless of whether it is within the sphere of my personal truth, the feelings can be similar.

To answer the question, writing and is therapy. Whatever the emotion is getting all that sadness or jealousy or anger out on the page means it is easier to analyse and to deal with. It also means it is out, rather than eating away inside. A suppressed emotion is a dangerous thing. Writing is therapy, comfort and often truth.

I need your help ! As you know,  being half housebound means my main way  of communication is Facebook, can you help me out by sharing my post ? I’m trapped in the maze of the algorithm, which means that the only way of boosting my audience is to a)pay lots of money or b) make a shameless plea to my lovely readers. I’ve gone for the latter. 

I’d also really value some feedback. What is good to read ? Is there too much M.E. stuff ? Do you want more on my views about the iambic pentameter ? Stories about kittens? Comment below, or if that’s too public ( I know some of you are shy ) just drop me a message through my  Facebook page KathrynAnnaWrites. Thank you so very much for your interest and support. It is invaluable.

 

 

Possibilites

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This week I’ve had the pleasure of being introduced to a real life poet. Following my Dynamo mentoring session with Jane Commane of Nine Arches Press, I have a collection of goals to help me develop. One of these is to meet more writers. It’s not an easy thing, partly because having a fluctuating health condition means attending a group regularly is tricky and partly because my confidence fluctuates along with my health. The fear of brain fog creeping up and stealing my words is a strong one. It’s just about okay with people who know me, but the thought of it happening in the company of those who don’t is enough to keep me indoors. Jane is a wise woman, and has put me in touch with just one very talented poet Jean Atkin, who also happens to be based in Shropshire. I was nervous writing the initial email, but had such a kind reply I realise that being brave is the way forward. As well as being a published poet (she’s even been on Radio 4), Jean runs many community activities, which I hope I can be involved with. In my wildest dreams I hope I may develop my skills and improve my health enough to do something similar. There are many art and craft workshops in my community and I’d love to do something similar with words. This introduction has given me one of those oh so important boosts in confidence. As always happens when my confidence pricks up, my writing does too. My current module is around flash fiction and prose poetry at the moment, which I find very exciting. I have a raft of competitions to enter before Christmas, as well as continuing with my study and assignments, which I hope will be fulfilled by my work for this part of the course. Exciting times !

Thank you for reading. You can find out more about Jean’s work here https://jeanatkin.com

Some more things I’ve learned

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©kam

Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker’s intentions; it is populated—overpopulated—with the intentions of others. (Bakhtin,1981,p294)

I’m enjoying this part of my studies so much. I first encountered the work of Mikhail Bakhtin as part of my studies for my degree English Language, way back in 1999. I loved it then and I love it now. It makes so much sense to me. Everything we read,hear or write is influenced by those around us and by previous experience. The response I have had to my previous post illustrates this beautifully. I had so many supportive messages (thank you), and each one featured a personal account, either through direct or indirect experience. As we read anything, whether it’s a novel or a half-witted twitter rant, we bring our own values and judgement to bear. I’m sure there will be some who read and sigh and roll their eyes. I cannot control that and accepting the negative response is part of putting work into the public domain. Being mindful that negativity reflects personal experience and prejudice helps me to distance myself. A little.

This concept of dialogism seems obvious, but what makes it so interesting is that it is such a subconscious act and that it is an act that influences our understanding and behaviour in almost every sphere of our interaction with others. Every word retains its social history even when used in a new context. It’s like having ghosts sitting on our shoulders as we read, listen or write.

How does this affect me as a writer ? It makes me think more. It makes me worry less. If a piece of writing means something to someone, how much does it matter if their understanding does not correlate with my intent ? Not a great deal . The only situation that would concern me would be a gross misappropriation of my values and beliefs although I think with my tiny (and lovely) readership I’m fairly safe.

Bakhtin’s work is also helping me with an area I’ve struggled with; developing the voices of my characters. One of the best things someone said to me recently was that they could really hear the characters’ voice as they read, instead of hearing me . That is what I am striving for, because that is when I will know I have created an authentic character. Everything we write has an element of our self, but my aim for this next part of my course is to create strong, vivid voices that help my reader to feel and know my character. If I can write something that resonates with others then that will be the icing on the cliche.