Thursday 23 August 2012

Teaching Creative Writing

I was really delighted to receive my copy of this book the other week. I have one chapter in it: Finding a suitable narrative voice when writing for children. I’ve written on this theme before and I use the type of exercise I’ve outlined here quite often in my own classes. I even use it myself as I start each new children’s book.
But I don’t really want to talk about just my own chapter here. I’d like to say it’s an excellent reference book for a creative writing teacher or a writer. There are fifty chapters, so that means forty-nine creative writing exercises I’ve not used before. This is extremely useful as my students inform me that what they most like about their classes are the opportunities they have to complete creative writing exercises. It’s my own experience too that I’ll often get a completely new idea by doing one of these exercises.
There are chapters also by several colleagues I know well: Elaine Walker (editor), Steve May (the paperless workshop), Philip Gross (collaborative poetry game), Vanessa Harbour (voice in young adult literature) and Craig Batty (describing feeling). There are several people I do not yet know and I’m look forward to reading about writing animals (Sandra Burr), yoga on the page (Beverly Frydman) and leaving the comfort zone Nicholas Y.B. Wong.
The book is also extremely attractive and very tactile.                

Wednesday 8 August 2012

A Writing Experiment

I’m currently working on something that to some extent was inspired by the master students at the University of Salford where I lecture in creative writing. They conduct some very bold experiments. I thought it was about time I did, too. The subtitle to our MA is innovation and experiment. I’m a fan of the OULIPO poets and I think what I’m doing would be approved by this group – though I am working within prose fiction rather than poetry.  
I don’t want to give all of the details at this stage but I will say there’s a lot of counting involved. I am one of those writers who plots loosely to start with, but keeps the two-line synopsis as the backbone of the story all the time. This time, however, I have only a very vague idea of the story line – in fact probably just that two–line synopsis and no more. But I do know precisely where the main turning points are going to come.
I’m finding that I’m building my characters up as I go along. Normally, I have a very good idea of exactly who they are before I start. They are no less rounded this time. They feel more real to me because I am getting to know them the same way I would if they were human. They are emerging before me, rather than being created by me.  
This experiment relies very much on word count. Sections are gradually getting longer. So, I’m writing what feels right, editing three times then making sure the word count is spot on. There can be no further editing part from a proof read and changing the odd word or two here and there – one verb or adjective for another, perhaps. I’m certainly writing more slowly than normal BUT editing is going to be a lot quicker. Maybe a read out loud and a copy-edit for spelling. There’ll essentially only be one draft.  
I’m not sure how commercial this novel is going to be or whether it will actually work at all. But it will be interesting to look at and it may pose many questions. It could open up a whole new area of research. I’ll post more on this when it’s finished. I’ve completed 11,000 words out of a possible 75,000.