Friday 30 July 2010

Ludic Reading

Ludic Reading
I’ve recently had an academic paper rejected. Well, it’s to be expected that that will happen from time to time. What really surprised me, however, was that the reviewer said it had spelling mistakes in it. No, it didn’t. When I looked at it again, it had one small typo. But the peer reviewer accused me of misspelling “lucid”. I referred five times to “ludic” reading.
Ah well, I probably need to include a definition of what I mean by that.
The word “ludic” actually means playful, and in the sense of playing to certain rules. So, it’s actually used a little bit wrongly in the term “ludic reading”. This has a sense of reading for pleasure, and probably includes that type of reading where you are totally gripped by a story and lose sight of your real world. In my case, as I read, I stop seeing marks on paper and just have a film playing out in my head. I’m amazed that this isn’t the experience that most people get when they read and certainly most other creative writers I know do have that experience. It’s stopped being “play”, though, for me as it is now part of my job. But what a job, eh?
Incidentally, this film in the head is even stronger when I write.
This type of reading is actually very interactive, not relaxing at all. As early as 1988 Victor Nell discussed this in his book Lost in a Book and more recently in an academic paper on the process. Further work has been conducted since and both Nell’s work and the more recent work include looking at what actually happens in the brain when we read in this way. The results have been quite surprising and very exciting. This feels like something I want to find out more about.
Another potential research topic then?

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Coping with a Writing Academic’s Stress

I love my job. It’s like being paid for doing what used to be a hobby. But there are stresses and quite severe ones at times.
Sometimes you don’t know what the priority is – you actually have three jobs: admin, teaching and research. Research, for me, is further divided into academic writing and my own creative writing. All bring what seem to be impossible deadlines.
Rejection is a big part of the game – and sometimes it’s by a so-called peer reviewer who isn’t really a peer at all because they clearly know a lot less about the subject than you do. You are paid to have reached a point of expertise. You probably have a Ph D, so you have “added to the body of knowledge”. The pressure is on to add even more or become even more of an expert. Yet you’re judged by people who lack that expertise.
Ironically, though, other people do regard you as an expert and you can be overwhelmed by questions. It actually makes you write more. If you’ve written about x, y and z, they don’t need to ask you questions – they can read the book, paper or blog.
You work alone. It is all down to you. You have rights and you have responsibilities. They can weigh heavy.
There is no end to the work. You finish one project and another looms. I except this happens in many jobs. There is no sense of finishing because no matter how good a paper, novel, story, article is that you write, the pressure is on to produce the next and make it even better.
I do have an antidote. I sing with a choir. Research says that singing is good for your mental health. It has a physical effect, releasing endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals in the brain. In addition there are other physical benefits – for example it can improve lung function. But being a part of a choir is actually also about working with other people. A really good choir sings as one voice, even if it is singing in four or more parts. I also find that I can be more in the moment, totally absorbed in the music. Sure, I’m totally absorbed in my writing when I’m creating characters and scenes, but as I do that I’m still aware of a pressure to create perfection. In the choir, we’re encouraged to make our singing as good as we can and then we look to see how we can do it even better. We help each other with that and we’re pushed forward by our director. It’s a real contrast to how I work in my other world where I have to push myself forward but am then judged by others. With the choir, rehearsal and performance alike contribute to this feeling of working with other people.
Yes, I love my job. What was a hobby now earns me my bread and butter. Yet I’ve managed to find another hobby. One that helps to keep me sane and ironically thereby also contributes to the day job.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Writing – an addiction?

At a recent critique group meeting we had a new member. We all introduced ourselves. It was tempting to say “My name is Gill and I am a writer.” You know, you don’t feel right if you haven’t done a certain amount of writing a day. You are only truly happy when you are writing and it seems to be going well.
We each have our routines – and this can include no routine. Mine is two hours a day, two thousand words. And I love being behind on a deadline. That is the ultimate excuse to spend even more time writing. I do give myself a word of caution here though. Because if I try to write for more than two hours or beyond two thousand words on any given day, then I tend to get less done or write less well. It’s as if all of the energy is used up.
So, is this a balanced addiction? Just enough makes you feel good? Too much kills you? An addiction it certainly is though, and not one I’d be without.
My name is Gill and I am a writer.

Friday 16 July 2010

Graduation Ceremonies

I guess in the end that is what it is all about. Just once a year we get to wear our academic robes. There is something about wearing them. We feel as if we command a different presence. Do we? What is it all for this that we worked so hard?
There is always a good atmosphere at the Lowry. I opted for going there by tram from Radcliffe. I changed at St Peter’s Square – and promptly saw the Manchester University graduates coming out of Bridgewater Hall. A great atmosphere there, too.
The tram was packed. Lots of people were on their way there to the same ceremony. Just as we arrived – and it’s a decent work form the nearest tram stop to the Lowry Theatre – it started to pour with rain. Yet it was so warm and windy that by the time we all arrived and it had stopped raining for just a couple of minutes, we were dry again.
Then there was the usual struggle to get the hoods to look good and the hats to stay on. This year we were offered the opportunity to remove our hats once seated on the stage. We took this up: it can get uncomfortably hot up there under the theatre lights.
There is something quite thrilling about the actual procession. It is good too, watching your students come up and receive their degree certificates. I do fear for some of the girls, though, in their very high heels.
The ceremony yesterday was short enough, despite a huge number of students graduating. One spotted me and waved just before she picked up her certificate. We shared our ceremony with another school and they had some very lively students. Applause was particularly enthusiastic for some of our African students.
Afterwards we try to catch them on the way out. They escape us. I did find five, including one of our MA graduates. I had my photo taken twice. Again, it feels different as you talk to them when both you and they are in academic dress. And the sun did continue to shine as we spilled out on to the concourse in front of the Lowry.
I can quite honestly say that that was the second nicest degree ceremony I’ve ever been to. The best was my own, when I received my Ph D, in Bangor, July 2007.

Thursday 15 July 2010

Work in Schools

This can be so different from school to school. In a sense I did some work with schools last week. I did a two day workshop for the Aimhigher programme. That went like a dream and I got some fabulous work out of the youngsters. Yesterday I did a short one and a half hour visit to a boys’ school and it almost totally exhausted me.
There was a lot against us: we were moved to the hall at the last minute – the room we were supposed to use had a problem, the girls who were supposed to be joining us from the school next door cancelled at the last minute, it was almost the end of term and of some the session clashed with a drama lesson and – we’re talking about Y9 boys. Forty minutes into the session, some students got hauled out so that a senior teacher could discuss an “incident” with them. And there was this uninteresting-looking woman with greying hair, professing to be a writer for young adults, talking about how to make characters and settings.
And yet:
• They listened well as I read to them and talked about how I came to write The Prophecy and Babel.
• They came up with some fabulous ideas – after we pushed through the silliness.
• They eventually – possibly too late – started to produce some good work.
• They were delighted to receive a signed post card from me – even though one declared he was going to sell it on e-bay. Well, at least that would be interesting, I guess.
• A few hung behind and thanked me personally.
In the end, although it was a tiring visit, I was glad that I’d made it. Appeal to children’s imagination and something exciting always happens.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

A New Take on Rejections

We all get them, even those of us who have a track record in publishing. In fact there are some who have a sort of superstitious belief that you have to have a certain number of rejections before you are accepted – and then actually relish each one as it arrives as “… down … to go.”
I used to be of the school that sent out three submissions to agents and three to publishers then sat back and waited, replacing each rejection with a new submission. There is a vital flaw in this: if an agent does accept you, you may have limited some of the work they can do. The agent may now have fewer publishers to approach.
Now, I’m taking a slower tack. I’m actually submitting to just one agent at a time and when I’ve exhausted the agents, I’ll start on the publishers who accept unsolicited scripts. Exceptionally, though, I’ll send out to some opportunity that seems to fit my script like a glove. I have had one or two successes that way.
We do grow as writers and the chances are that by the time an agent or a publisher has sat on a work for three months or so, you will see the text with new eyes. A writing friend of mine used to call rejections “rewrites”. What a healthy attitude! We learn all the time. Even if we get no feedback at all from the publisher we should be capable of being our own best editors and taking a closer, fresher look at out text. If there are any pointers from the agent or publisher – great.
I find by only having each manuscript in one place at a time, I can give each rejection my whole attention and give the script some good honest scrutiny. A word of warning, here, though: don’t look at just the three chapters and synopsis. Revise the whole novel. I do believe I’ve spotted several that start off really well and then deteriorate at about Chapter Four.
Yes, our writing has to be the very best it can be all of the time. Eventually then, the rejection will turn into acceptance.

Saturday 3 July 2010

What Writers Do Apart from Writing

This week I’ve written about 7000 words. Over the last ten days I’ve also:
Driven to North Wales,
Attended a book reading in a bookshop
Had people round to my house to attend a book reading
Attended an English board meeting at the university where I work
Completed quite bit of admin for said university
Processed about 500 emails
Posted and read several tweets
Attended a training course to do with posting reading lists for my students
Attended a book pitching event
Driven to Canterbury
Attended a conference at Canterbury where I’ve given a paper
But writing remains the main thing….