Tag Archives: on-line course

What I write about when I’m not writing fiction

My good news is that I’m getting back to revising my novel. Thank you, good friends, who have enquired about its progress over the last 12 months. My bad news is that the progress has been very slow, and was much delayed for about 9 months. In fact I put the novel back in its drawer again for a while. I just couldn’t work on it at the same time as on the book I have just finished with my two co-authors: The New Age of Ageing.

145 writing keyboard

Writing fiction and non-fiction

I have tried and failed on several occasions to keep two large writing projects on the go at the same time – one non-fiction and the other a novel or short story. It just doesn’t seem to work. I am wondering why. In part it is because they require conflicting skills.

The New Age of Ageing, and non-fiction writing generally, requires methodical and thorough research, solid arguments, a sequence of writing that reflects the ideas under discussion. Some skills needed are the same as for fiction, such as hooking interest early, clarity and presenting factual information that relates to people’s lives. What I don’t need is to go shooting off after a new narrative idea, or to leave the reader in suspense at the end of a chapter. No, every assumption and connection needs to be considered, verified, scrutinised. Flights of fancy must be followed by reasoned hypothesis.

Structural problems of the two genres are very different. For the novel I have a plot in 23 chapters. I have been challenged by the novel’s structure, deciding on advice to change to alternating chapters having originally written it in alternating pairs. The change resulted in an improved novel but hours of confusion as I had to re-label everything on my computer and on the hard copies. You need to be well organised about peripheral things when writing a novel. Well I do, being a planner rather than a pantser. Zadie Smith referred to micro managers and macro planners in an influential lecture at Columbia University in March 2008. I am happy to quote her descriptions, because I admire her work and recently wrote a post challenging a comment she made about writing and therapy.

You will recognise a Macro Planner from his Post-its, from those Moleskines he insists on buying. A Macro Planner makes notes, organises material, configures a plot and creates a structure—all before he writes the title page. This structural security gives him a great deal of freedom of movement. It’s not uncommon for Macro Planners to start writing their novels in the middle.

I am a Micro Manager. I start at the first sentence of a novel and I finish at the last. It would never occur to me to choose among three different endings because I haven’t the slightest idea of the ending until I get to it, a fact that will surprise no one who has read my novels.

Structure for the book on ageing posed different challenges. Each chapter required a great deal of revision, recasting, editing, removal, filling gaps. It often seemed that I had all the right ideas but in the wrong order. I also had two co-authors to whom reference needed to be made for everything as they are also responsible for the content. Their feedback notes were invaluable, our talk was even better.

I can get very passionate about ageing and the issues and challenges that are not getting enough attention. I loved writing our manifesto for the book, getting clearer and clearer what it was we wanted to say. I loved the process of taking our combined ideas and moving them to a place I could not have gone on my own. So my involvement in writing that book was social as well as requiring some good research and communication skills.

243 New Age cover

Writing my novel is more isolating. To write the novel or the book on ageing I sit for hours in my writing room, looking out occasionally at Dartmoor and its changing weather patterns. Sitting. Tapping. Rearranging papers. An observer would not see the difference. But in the end, the novel has been a very isolated and individual activity.

So they require different skills, but that does not quite explain why I can’t do write fiction and non-fiction at the same time.

Working one project

About 9 months ago I decided to put the novel back in the drawer (yes again). After all we had a contract for our book on ageing and a deadline for completion. And I had two co-writers to answer to. And to be honest I had got to a sticky point in the revisions.

I had found that my fiction writing is not good enough at showing or even telling the reader about the emotional state of the protagonists. I tend to assume it’s obvious. In my best moments I think that is honouring the intelligence of the readers, allowing them to do some work. But when my intelligent readers said that I needed to work on this I can only agree. It has taken me some rumination, reading novels and some guidance from my on-line course to help me see what I must do. That’s what I am working on now.

Blogging

94 Blog on tablet

I can’t concentrate on fiction and non-fiction writing at the same time. However, one genre of writing has proved itself compatible with both fiction and non-fiction – blogging. The Book Word blog has been building slowly but steadily throughout this time, and I have posted every five or six days. In the posts I explore writing issues, review books, continue the series on older women in fiction and am able to look at all things connected with books and writing that take my fancy.

Perhaps I can combine blogging with both fiction and non-fiction because blogging requires some creativity, some research, some care over the communication of the content. And I am my own publisher for the blog. It’s not a commercial undertaking, so if a post bombs there is no consequence except to my pride. The deadlines are close, but I can (and do) alter them to suit my life.

It’s back to the novel

So … I am taking the chapters and looking at the emotional arcs of the characters and hoping that all the reading and writing and thinking I have done will help me see afresh how to communicate the emotional life of my characters.

And I am doing all the other things put on hold while we finished The New Age of Ageing. That’s another post in preparation! What I do when I’m not writing. Watch this space.

Related posts

This was the 6th in a series on revising my novel, following an on-line course back in 2015. Previous posts

My purposes for the on-line course #1 January 2015

Progress On-line course: my learning #2 January 2015

Progress On-line course: post course plans #3 February 2015

On-Line Writing Course #4 Revising Structure and Plot March 2015

On-Line Writing Course #5 Deadlines August 2015

And here’s a post with some excellent ideas: 10 things to do while your MS is resting from Victoria Griffin Fiction blog in July last year.

The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change by Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman, to be published by Policy Press in September 2016.

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Filed under Books, Libraries, My novel, Publishing our book, Writing

On-Line Writing Course #2 in-progress

So this is how I’m getting on with the course on-line, focusing on 5 responses to my experiences so far. In my post about learning aims, I left you as I was about to enter the on-line site. Immediately I experienced something that was familiar but unexpected:

1. Disorientation

Remember when you first went to school, college, university? You found the building and stood in the hallway looking at all the signs, the many doors and the other people who all appeared to know what they were about. It was like that. I got onto the site, which looked just like a Facebook page, by which I mean lots of possibilities with no clues about how to proceed. So what to do? I hadn’t expected to feel so lost or uncertain. Where do I go? How do I find out? Have I time for coffee? I don’t want to be here.

145 writing keyboardI was surprised by my own sense of powerlessness, and of the familiarity of these feelings of disorientation from all the occasions when I had begun courses in the real world. And even more surprised because I have sat on the other side of the screen, as it were, and done some on-line tutoring. Hah!

I like the idea that being intelligent means knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do. I had been emailed some joining notes. First find your group.

And now, after three weeks I know exactly where I’m going and I go there. I ignore all distractions, invitations to chat, linger and discuss the writing ideas of other people. I go straight to my course and do my stuff.

Note to self: remember you always feel like this when a course starts. Just get to the right place at the right time.

2. The seduction and distraction of praise

Praise is such a difficult thing. I’ll be honest, I’d love people to be stunned by my writing, exclaim over its brilliance, its depth, the imagery and characterisation etc etc. But I notice that when I am praised (and I have been!) it gets in the way of reading the other bits that will be more helpful in the longer term. This is, after all, a course about self-editing and my intention is to improve my novel with the skills learned.145 emoticon

Feedback is a wonderful thing and I am getting a great deal out of both receiving it and giving it. But if there is praise I have to steer myself past it to see the stuff that I need. I have discussed praise in other places (see Annethology and Norah Colvin’s blogs for example) and its relevance to learning.

Note to participants: please don’t stop the praise if you think it’s deserved. I will get to that useful stuff.

Note to self: it’s about time you ditched this childish need, it is in danger of inhibiting your learning.

3. Disadvantages of being on-line

In a classroom I would hear all the contributions of every participant. As we make our comments on each other’s topic lines this is not quite so easy. I would have to check 14 lines every time I entered the site, as well as checking the Wall. It’s permanent so it has advantages, and it’s not that difficult. But I have to make the effort, which is challenging when I’m in a hurry.

4. Advantages of being on-line

On the other hand, we are freed from the restrictions of all turning up at the same time, in the same place. Suits me. And the comments wait until I’m ready.

5. Learning

And I’m learning lots. I wanted to develop some skills, and some insights into my novel and the work I need to do to take it from a first full draft to a better crafted second draft. I am beginning to see how I could do that. I’ll say 145 inkwell noun projmore about this in a later post.

A major issue for me now is that I also want to steam ahead with another writing project (non-fiction) with a March 2016 deadline. The three authors had a 3-day write-in last week, so I’m brimming with ideas. How will I manage both?

 

Any comments about on-line writing courses? Anything from my fellow participants? Or tutors?

 

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Filed under Learning, My novel, Writing