Thursday 28 October 2010

Fascinating Research Day

Our subject group held a research day yesterday. The presentations were diverse: two reasonably conventional academic papers were read. They were interesting in their own right. It’s good for us anyway to exercise that intellectual academic muscle. This, in the end, is what we are all about.
There were other discussions too about early career researchers, funded doctoral programmes with outside bodies and taught doctoral programmes where students with similar research interests across institutions are collected. We talked about how we might reshape our present research clusters. One colleague gave us some ideas about how we might maximise our research time. This included only writing papers for conferences in bullet points, so that one does not end up writing the papers twice. Other ideas were to link teaching and research and to do one’s creative writing at the time of day that suits you best.
So, now I’m full of plans. I’m champing at the bit to apply for one of these doctoral programmes. I’m thinking of linking to IBBY or Seven Stories. Any interest out there in getting a funded Ph D linked to one of those?
I agree absolutely about the bullet-pointed conference paper. It was good to hear my ideas confirmed.
And I’m trying it. I’m writing this now as part of my two hours’ writing before I start on uni admin. Lets see how it goes.
We did struggle more to see how we could make our onerous admin part of our research. Maybe I have an answer: today, for instance, I might finish off my application for sabbatical in my “writing” time. It is a form of writing after all.
In the end, we creative writers have to write. It is part of what we are and is the bottom line of why the university employs us anyway.

Thursday 21 October 2010

This week’s portfolio classes

My two groups have been really good again today. They’re all writing prose – life writing or fiction. The work is good on the whole but it all still needs another tidy up. I am confident that most of them can manage this. They are all missing the chance to show rather than tell, yet they are getting a real sense of what that means. We talked about editing and perhaps looking for one item at a time. This will inevitably distort the shape of the text they are producing and may lead to word count problems which will also have to be resolved. Yet this all belongs to the craft.
There were some clumsy sentences and some run-on sentences in some pieces. They will probably deal with the former in their editing process. They must learn to avoid run-on sentences. They point to a lack of understanding of grammar in the writer and could preclude the text from being published in the USA. They should only use them if the effect is worth the hassle with the copy-editor.
I was very pleased to find out that all of my students are working on their writing outside the course. Some are working on the same material as here, others on new material. They are becoming professional writers. They run their own critique groups amongst their peers and some post to on-line sites and e-critique groups. Some are using social networking tools to create themselves as writers though they are all aware that they may need to create a different identity from their social identity.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

On Autobiogrpahy

We all know 250 people don’t we? We are not short of people to help paint our lives. Some of them can be very colourful. Other people define who we are. I often think my creative writing students would do well to take a course in human psychology. Everybody’s life is interesting, actually, if we frame it carefully.
Yet we must be careful. There is even more danger of losing friends if we make them feature in our autobiographies for here we imply that we tell the truth. We may see them one way but they may see themselves entirely differently.
Perhaps the best option is to just show the reader scenes from our lives and let them come to their own conclusions. However, we must be aware that we are being selective in what we chose to portray and how we choose to portray it. We are painting our pasts from our position here and now in the present. Nevertheless if our own stories are constructed through the type of scenes we use in fiction, filmic scenes grounded in time and space and relying on us writing with the senses, they make for more interesting reading anyway than if they are simply told.

Friday 15 October 2010

A Life of Boasting

It strikes me that I spend much of my time saying how good I am. Even writing this blog can get a bit like that sometimes. A large part of my job is to do with bidding for funding. This is involves proving why I am the right person for the particular job. We have to regularly update our profiles at the university. Yesterday my colleagues and I had to prove that we are innovative and that claiming to have a strength in innovation in creative writing is not to be smirked about. When you write a simple query letter you feel obliged to point out how you’ve been successful in publication elsewhere and how you might bring other qualities and aptitudes to the process of getting your book out there – in my case the fact that I do numerous school visits and am actually a university lecturer. Then there are my qualifications – an MA and a Ph D in writing. Ah, there I go again. We have to repeat it all when we go to our appraisal meetings.
I do know I am good but that there are many people even better. Yet I don’t need to exaggerate. I’m pleased with my progress. Every so often, for example when applying for a new post or for promotion, it’s actually good to list all that you’ve achieved. But frankly at the moment I’m bored with it all. Plus, all this self-glorification is leaving me little time to actually get on with being good in my field.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Final Portfolio Groups

I had my two Final Portfolio groups today. Each group has just six students. They are a joy to teach. Half of them submit work in advance of our meeting. We all look at it, give feedback, discuss generally and then look forward to the next week when the other half of each group submit work.
We often notice same items. Sometimes though there are disagreements. Sometimes the writer may disagree with everyone else. This is actually an important point for new writers: they have to take responsibility for the decisions they ultimately make about their work.
We learnt a trick today: if the reader understands what we want them to understand we have written well. It is often hard for us to judge these things ourselves. This is a really effective way we can gain useful feedback on our work. Ask open-ended questions about the impression the reader has gained.
Often more general topics come up in these sessions. What should we do after we’ve finished this course? I offer my five suggestions, go on to post grad work, write your bestseller, go into a job that uses the same skills (advertising, teaching), become a jobbing writer or pick an uncreative job to allow space for creative activity. Then there are discussions about how to clearly mark changing points of view, how we often have to get rid of the first parts that we have written for that is how we ourselves get into the story and how it can be useful to get the story down quickly and then go back and worry about the details. We are using an art with a little craft. Writing is not an exact science even though we may look at it scientifically.
Yes, it’s great working with these lively minds. Again I say I have a fantastic day job.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Towards Publication

I’m suggesting a new module at the university here where I teach. It is a very hands-on one for students who wish to become published whilst still at university. Students on the course will be asked to keep a portfolio of work they wish to submit, of work they are in the process of submitting and of submissions they have already made.
The course will equip them with their own personal strategy for maintaining a future portfolio of submissions and for maintaining a full-time or part-time writing career. It will also show students how to submit effectively.
There will be lectures about ways of submitting, including all the ones that the new technology affords and performance as an alternative form of submission. There will be a seminar on creating the portfolio that will be assessed in the course. There will be two one-to-one tutorials. The first will discuss strategies for the individual and the second will discuss the current portfolio. Alongside these, distance learning components with formative assessment will be offered on submission strategies, submission methods, entering competitions, networking and coping with rejection. A wiki and a discussion forum will also be offered to the students.
Many Creative Writing programmes offer these sorts of modules as compulsory components. And the students hate them – either because they have decided they don’t after all want to become writers or because they are forced to face one of the realities of the writer’s world. This module offers some guidance and mentoring to those who are really keen to get their work published.
There is still a vocational element for others: others not taking this as credit-bearing course will be able to attend the lectures and have access to the on-line materials.

Thursday 7 October 2010

What a privilege

I have had an absolutely fabulous day at my day job today. A writer’s dream perhaps and I’m even getting some time to write.
Admin was exciting – two more acceptances for writing the chapter on the books I’m proposing. And absolutely perfect suggestions as to what people would write.
Then, two groups of almost perfect Final Portfolio students. They had sent work of a rigorous standard. They were open to suggestion. They made helpful, intelligent suggestions. They were fun to be with. In between the two sessions, I met up with three of my colleagues and we had a fairly relaxed informal but important chat.
We also had a visit form the Octagon Theatre, Bolton. They do fabulous things! And I’m going to see them tomorrow.
In my office hours, I saw a student who wants to make a career of writing… and or teaching. It was easier to talk to her than try and write it all in an email.
I’ve also been marking an interesting MA dissertation.
Later, I’m teaching my Introduction to Children’s Writing Course. Fab!
And then I meet a colleague and the exchange students in the pub for half an hour.
What a day job!

Friday 1 October 2010

New MA Students

I met my new Writers Workshop students last night. Some students I already knew either because they’d graduated from Salford or they are part-timers and did two modules last year. There were two new faces.
We had a very lively discussion. They all spoke about their work to start with then we discussed poetics referring to the work of Robert Sheppard and looked at a few ideas form Hazel Smith’s The Writing Experiment. They left buzzing with ideas.
We’ve worked out some quite strict workshop rules. I’m really pleased that they will be sending each other work and annotating it electronically before the session.
There’s seven of them altogether – all female. I think we’ll continue to have lively discussions.