Saturday, 24 January 2015

Open College of the Arts Creative Writing; The Hollow Places by Nina Milton

A new blogpost about learning to write from me on the Open College of the Arts blogsite;


Hollow Places

I’m a King of Hearts kind of writer. That is, when I begin to write something, long or short, I have to start at the beginning and I only stop when I get to the end. (Even more Wonderland-like, I usually go back to the beginning at that point.)
Although I often think up stories in a non-sequential order, and my notebooks are crammed with jumbled chronologies and leap-frogged jottings about character, setting and plot, once I rest my hands on the keyboard I have to write the opening scene before I can move on, and chapter one has to be followed by chapter two.
Many writers, established and successful, do not follow this pattern...

to read more of this blogpost about writing, go to;

http://weareoca.com/creative_writing/hollow-places/?utm_source=Tutors+OCA+email+addresses&utm_campaign=09948773fd-E_bulletin_22_January_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_63cc343a6f-09948773fd-64398605

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Zoned-in Description - using detail in your writing


 I think it was John Gardiner who said…DETAIL IS THE LIFE-BLOOD OF CREATIVE WRITING. If he did, he was right. the strange truth is, the more detail you chose to include, the less boring the writing becomes. Moving into close-up is absorbing.

You don’t have to describe everything around the location and setting of your work (often refered to in writerly terms as the milieu), for the reader to 'see' it. Imagery works far better when the writer ‘zones in’ on specific things, rather than trying to described everything. This is the ‘nuggets of gold’ method…finding the perfect item that will tell the reader as much as all the rest put together. 


What readers love the most, are the details of life as they know it and can recognise it, yet described with fresh, inventive eyes. A writer who can make such ‘commonalities’ appear new on the page will engage and entrance. I call this ability  zoning in. The strange truth is, the more detail you chose to include, the less boring the writing becomes. Skimming over a description loses the reader, zoning in absorbs him. By looking closely at the most interesting parts of the whole, the description is enhanced.Seeing it all is like being close to the screen in the cinema – too much information.
Samuel Johnson said, “The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”  Don’t be afraid of detail – it makes all the difference – it is the complete opposite of writing huge swathes of description that skim over detail and bore the reader to sleep. 
So when you describe, rather than paint an overall picture, zone in to look at small details using symbolism wherever you can. Think about what the ‘core’ of the thing you’re describing might be. Naturally, this will depend on whether you’re looking at landscape, background settings, external or interior locations, objects or people. Here are some examples of what I mean:

Landscape;
Below, Charlotte Bronte uses description of landscape to draw us slowly towards the house she will later use almost as a character in the story. The delightful words…low, broad tower…galaxy…clashed…candle-light…the rest were dark…are designed to set up small mysteries in our mind. The punctuation might be a little out of date, but there is no doubt that this landscape sets up the reader for new experiences.
Again I looked out; we were passing a church: I saw its low broad tower against the sky, and its bell was tolling a quarter; I saw a narrow galaxy of lights, too, on a hill-side, marking a village or hamlet. About ten minutes after, the driver got down and opened a pair of gates; we passed through, and they clashed to behind us. We now slowly ascended a drive, and came upon the long front of a house: candle-light gleamed from one curtained bow-window; all the rest were dark…
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre 
Background Setting;
 In my children’s novel Sweet’n’Sour, I needed to describe the backdrop to my character’s life – Low Hee is eleven years old and from Malaysia – but the reader would want to get back to the story, so I chose to focus on his grandmother’s pig. 
Each morning, he boiled up the scraps for her feed and cleaned her sty. He loved grooming her with a stiff brush; she’d lie perfectly still for him while he scraped mud from her pink back. When he’d finished, he’d set out along the dusty road to school…
Sweet'nSour, Nina Milton

External Location
Note particularly, the ease in which this author uses the five senses…
He was standing on the wharf, peering down at the Delaware River while the sun beat on his shoulders. A mild breeze, the smells of tar and copper. A few yards away the Narwhal loomed, but he was looking instead at the partial reflection trapped between hull and pilings. The way the planks wavered, the railing bent, the boom appeared then disappeared; the way the image filled the surface without concealing the complicated life below. He saw, beneath the transparent shadow, what his father had taught him to see: the schools of minnows, the eels and algae, the mussels burrowing into the silt; the diatoms and desmids and insect larvae sweeping past hydrazoans and infant snails....
The Voyage of the Narwhal Andrea Barrett
Interiors
Poet Carol Ann Duffy zones in deliciously when remember her bedroom as a child;
The single bed
was first a wooden boat;
stars translated for me
as I drifted away –
our cargoed winter house
dark and at anchor –

and then a Russian Doll
where I stilled in my selves;
six secrets or presents
under a thrilled tree...
Decembers from Bees, Carol Ann Duffy
Objects
Sarah Waters is a marvellous close-up describer. In this scene, the character, Viv, observes a room  she’s never entered. Waters then takes us as close to the stockings, towel and soap as is possible. This suggests that in describing, we are doing more than simply setting a scene or telling the reader what might be seen, we are entering the world of the character. The closer the author goes, the closer the reader gets.
There was a single bed, an ancient-looking wardrobe, a chair with cigarette burns and a little wash-basin in the corner that was coming away from the wall. A radiator, painted over and over with different kinds of paint, gave off a tepid heat. On the bedside table was an alarm clock fastened down with a length of wire. The clock said ten past six. She had thirty or forty minutes.
...She had been worrying about the dress all day, because it was crepe and easily creased: she took it carefully from the envelope and let it fall from her hands, then spend a few minutes tugging at it, trying to flatten out the folds. The stockings she had worn and washed many times; there were patches of darning, the stitches tiny and neat, like fairy-work. She ran them over her fingers, liking the feel of them, looking for faults.
The towel was yellowy-white and thick, like a baby’s napkin. The soap had fine grey seams in it. But she’d brought talcum powder and she dabbed scent, from a little bottle, on her wrists and throat and collarbones, and between her breasts. When she put on the flimsy crepe dress, and replaced her lisle-winter stockings with flesh-coloured silk ones, she felt as though she was in her nightie, light and exposed.
Sarah Waters Night Watch 
People
Here's the beginning of a story where the character is introduced mainly through a physical context in a specific locations – an allotment. We learn about the man through his activities and the way his allotment is kept. We’re never told that he is a little obsessive with a strong work ethic, or that he’s a painter, but we can more or less guess these things through the physicality of his world as we’re show through detail... yellow bone-handled knife for instance, which helps the reader make a picture in his mind and became very aware of the sort of man Robin is. 
Robin hoed between geometric rows of crops. His sweat dripped into the soil. The hoe travelled swift and firm along its weedless way, as if he’d been given a penitential exercise for an unknown sin.
He had come to the allotment to harvest the produce they would use during the week; the end product of previous sweat-dripped work. Lettuce, carrots, potatoes, beans and sweet round beets had been sliced through with the yellow bone-handled knife and placed in the boot of the old Vauxhall, placed to lie in careful compliment of shape texture and colour.
The spare tyre made good staging. He’d taken a thoughtful step back to survey his still life. It was more than just food; it looked spiritually appetizing. 
Girl in a Lilac Dress Nina Milton (Tees Valley Writer) 
Combining descriptions
You might want to describe more than one aspect of your milieu. Remember that zoned-in description, when done well, almost always describes more than that one isolated item. I call this multitasking.

DETAILS ARE THE ZOOM LENS OF THE WRITER – MAKE THEM WORK HARD FOR THEIR LIVING by multitasking them –
  • To reveal character
  • To heighten identification with character
  • To add clues to the outcome
  • To deepen symbolism
  • To add jokes or moments of depth
  • To just add that extra zing – atmosphere that makes the reader feel they are ‘there’.

To finish here is the thriller writer, Frances Fyfield,  describing a new character in a new situation and place; that’s a lot all at once. To enable this, she makes the vista move and change – she starts by directing the reader’s attention on the most obvious item – the gates. She zones-in on detail, before taking our eye soaring upwards. She also uses sounds to great effect. Above all, you’re already concerned for this vulnerable character. Words like...pissed, strange, repel, sharp, plaintiv...suggest the start of danger, and the phrases...hum of noise and glow of light...build a haunting mood.
She was drunk, inebriated, intoxicated, pissed, something like that, no doubt about it. Plus a little something else which made these bright lights extra bright, and the colours of the vast wrought-iron gates very strange. Such great big gates, made to repel and attract multitudes, each thirty feet high and standing open, decorated with huge motifs of Tudor rose and curlicues painted turquoise, pink and purple without a single sharp angle. These gates rose to a point half the height of the domed glass ceiling inside. She noticed a single seagull wheeling above the building, its plaintive mewling audible above the hum of the noise and the profile of its wings caught in the glow of light which came through the roof...
Cold to the Touch  Frances Fyfield


Monday, 12 January 2015

January's Guest Blogger; Open College of the Arts Student Jerry Allen


I’ve recently been having an email conversation with Jerry Allen, who has just signed up to do the Open College of the Arts ‘Life Writing’ course. He describes himself as  a ”nervous OCA novice”, but when I asked him to guest-blog for me, I loved what he had to say about his writing. I think he speaks for new writers everywhere…

Jerry says; This was taken in the Chittagong Hills.
The pipes were handed to me in a Mro village.
The Mro and the most remote Indigenous nation.
 
It has been a very long time since I studied.  I felt it would be helpful for me to formulate and express my reasons for taking this step. So here goes: 

My writing so far could be called “travel writing”.  Paul Theroux’s described travel books as boring, “self-indulgent, unfunny and rather selective” in ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’, where he broke the mould.  I want to write about people not sightseeing.  For example, the families that adopted me while travelling through India, the nuclear scientist on a bus in Iran, the people I’ve been squeezed against in Sri Lanka, the people escaping oppression, etc.  A good example of travel writing is the start of Ian Fleming’s “Thrilling Cities”, though it is a rich colonial’s view of the developing world.  He describes a journey by air to Hong Kong, the stopovers that were inevitable then and the often-annoying fellow passengers. 

I am a proud to be a member of a small, endangered tribe, or more correctly, an “Indigenous Nation”.  There are less than 2,500 Khyang people left in those beautiful jungle hills, we have lost land and will lose our language in another generation.  As I am from New Addington, where the Khyang “Nation” could fit in one block of flats, this may sound like a strange fantasy, but it is true.  I am desperate to write about the culture, language and plight before it is too late.  There is an urgency to describe their situation in an engaging way.  The most respected book on the tribes of the Chittagong Hills was written in 1869 by a young officer from a far posher part of Croydon. As a result of my experiences in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, I‘ve writen blogs for Amnesty International I feel I could contribute more if I could communicate and engage better.

So what do I want to do with the writing course I’ve signed up to? I want to write a love story.  My wife and I have gone through extraordinary struggles, battling with 2 governments.  We are an unusual couple, as people frequently note, and our love is very strong. 

But, it seems difficult for a man to write romance. A writer friend who has had romances published, suggested they should have a certain narrative structure. Finding a way to tell our love story and express my feelings avoiding triteness will be a challenge. 

‘Railway Man’ by Eric Lomax describes the horrors of being tortured in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The book approaches his life chronologically, while the film starts with a love story.  A troubled man in his 60s falls in love with a woman he meets on a train and she helps him come to terms with the horrors of his past.  

My writing ambition began when I unexpectedly arrived back in England with my leg in a cast after years in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Tajikistan and Bangladesh.  I found myself in a culture that I could not understand, in an unfamiliar small town.  For once in my life I was forced to sit still.  It was winter and, as I got more mobile, the snow kept falling.  This gloomy point was when the urge to look at my life and to write started.  Still in plaster, I limped into a writing group meeting.  They found my writing “quirky”.  But their writing and the exercises evoked an unfamiliar, comfortable world and I felt increasing intimidated.  

Even so, I’ve kept going and now I’m ready to study LIfe Writing. From that low point, the happiest time in my life developed. 

You can comment on this post, or ask Jerry questions in the comment box below.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Fifty Shades of Nighttime Grey; Walking the Somerset Levels

FIFTY SHADES OF NIGHTTIME GREY;

 WALKING THE SOMERSET LEVELS 

BY NINA MILTON

A new blog post from Nina is featured on the Crime Readers  Association website, posted
7th January 2015 by  in Crime Readers' Updates | 0 comments
The Somerset Moors
Have you ever walked the Somerset Levels at night? I have, purely for research purposes, and it was a scary experience. On the night I took my walk, charcoal clouds were scuttling across the sky. The quarter moon and the thick, milky covering of stars played hide and seek. Everything was grey…prickly hedges…reed beds…looming trunks of ancient willows…all shades of grey. As I walked the farmland paths, it was hard to spot the channels of water bordering each field. Several times I came up sharp to find myself staring down into reeking, stagnant ditches or canals brim full and squelchy at the edge. I battled on, my torch spotlighting my map, taking the wooden bridges in a zigzag route towards my destination.
I was heading for the peatbogs…

read the full post at http://www.thecra.co.uk/fifty-shades-nighttime-grey-walking-somerset-levels-nina-milton/



Thursday, 1 January 2015

Books of the Year; an interactive post.

MWho really knows which were the best books of the year? I know the ones I loved. But when I looked around the various media, opinions differed hugely. So I thought it would be far more interesting to hear about your favourite book –  books published in  2014 that you couldn't put down, or that left you thinking deeply. 

The Sameer Rahim, critic for the Telegraph, chose
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan as his top book. I might have read this by now, if I hadn't ordered online, making the error of chosing right title, wrong author! I'm now in possession of some lovely haikiu, entitled The Narrow Road to the Deep North by a Japanese poet called Matsuo Basho Noboyuki Yuasa. (It's very good, by the way)


The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/07/best-fiction-2014-flanagan-nicholls-waters-amis-mitchell-mcewan
thought this was a year for books that comfortably bridged the literary-commercial divide. Which is exactly where Sarah Waters’s hugely enjoyable suffragette-eraThe Paying Guests (Virago £20) fits in alongside Kate Mosse’s excellent page-turner The Taxidermist’s Daughter (Orion £16.99). Both are tightly-woven psychological thrillers, with Mosse offering a characteristic hint of the gothic and Waters painting a jaw-droppingly detailed historical portrait of a doomed love affair.

At Best Books, http://apps.npr.org/best-books-2014/ the 'staff pick' was Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. Ari Shapiro, bought it in hardback. The novel, which blends realism and fantasy, traces the life of a woman who gets caught up in a war between two groups of ancient, near-immortals. I read it flying from D.C. to London, and it carried me much further than that — across centuries, continents and genres. I'm not enough of a Mitchell fan to attend his conferences or read critical essays about him; I am enough of a fan to read nearly everything he's written. And The Bone Clocks ranks among his best.Having loved his other novels, this one is on my list for 2015.  
 On the Goodreads, the social site for book lovers, the overal fiction choice was  Landline by Rainbow Rowell. It got over 46,000 votes from readers. In Thrillar of 2014, Stephen King returned with Mr Mercedes. 

In the social network site for book lovers, Goodreads, Robert Galbraith (aka J K Rowling) was pipped to the thriller of the year post with the return of Stephen King. His new book, Mr Mercedes, got almost 41 and a half thousand votes from mystery and thriller readers. Yet again using a Midwestern city, he opened the story in the pre-dawn hours, where a line of the unemployed waiting at a job fair. A lone driver ploughs through the crowd killing the innocent.

Viv Grosop, writing for the New Republic, http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120671/best-fiction-2014-ian-mcewan-lydia-davis-and-miriam-toews chose All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews; I found myself wondering, on nearly every page, how I could have remained ignorant of this brilliant writer for so many years. (Somewhere, my Canadian literary friends are shaking their heads in disdain.) I want to call her a Canadian Lorrie Moore, but the truth is that Toews is truly distinct, hilarious even when she’s dealing with the most heartbreaking and bleak of subjectsas she is here: The plot of this novel circles around one woman’s multiple attempts to kill herself, and her sister’s internal debate as to whether she should help her. Maybe bleak plot summaries like this one are what inadvertently kept me away from Toews in the pastwhy would anyone want to read that depressing story? But trust me, you must.

Ben LernerIn Flavour Wire, a very cool cultural magazine,   says he's bored by the 2014 year-end lists in literature. "There is a measure of comfort in books coverage that breaks faith with the lively, exploratory spirit of contemporary literature. And 2014 has been an exemplary year in this regard, especially for poetry and the novel."
He chose 10:04, by Ben Lerner  as his pick of 2014, describing 10:04, as a clarion call for a new fiction built on the premise that real life is composed of fictions. "It shreds the notion, inherent to the postmodern novel, that the self must be lost in systems of entropy or disinformation."



Buzz Feed http://www.buzzfeed.com/isaacfitzgerald/books-we-loved-in-2014#.cayGx8m97 went for a book I've never heard of; LIndsay Hunter'sdebut novel  Ugly Girls, tells the heartbreaking story of an unraveling friendship between two young women, Baby Girl and Perry, as they careen through a world troubled by suburban poverty, alcoholic parents, and the attentions of a sinister internet stalker. 

And my choice? 


Close-up of Donna Tartt, with her dark bobbed hair
 Donna Tartt reads from The Goldfinch at its launch in September 2013. Photograph: Bas Czerwinski/AFP/Getty
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt deserved every bit of praise. It's a long book, and when I reached pg 100 I can remember thinking, "thank heavens, I've still got 600 pages to enjoy..." it's that sort of read. Characters - so colourful and real and unforgettable Theme - clever and deep. Setting -  contemporary and brilliantly coloured. And the plot has oozes of my favourite thing; causality. In other words all the twists at the end are deeply set into the beginning. 
SIt's the sort of book you want to start again as soon as you've finished. 

So now it's over to you. What was your utter favourite book of 2014? Let me know in the comment box - let's see what your choices are.

And a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2015 to all my readers and followers.




Landline by 

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble;it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Every Writers Big Question Can you start again in the New Year?


 The Big Question: Can you start writing again in the New Year?

It won’t be easy. Even if it’s your new year resolution. 



The midwinter festivities, be they Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Yule –  the time you’ve taken out to celebrate, shop, wrap gifts, pray and sing, party, cook, eat, drink, unwrap gifts, party some more and finally (deliciously) sleep, has taken you away from your normal routine. For people with paid employment, getting back into a work routine is hard, but they have the boss and the alarm clock on their side with that one. Writing is often done as well as paid employment and rarely has the debatable luxury of a boss on your back.

 The only motivation is you - wanting to write. 

read like mad
It’s even sadder and harder if it had been going well, because you’ll notice the difference and mourn the loss without quite knowing how to get back in the grind. 

Here’s some tips from a lot of different writers about how to get into the grove and start writing regularly in 2015;
  • Nina Milton recommends writing when you wake. Just for five or ten minutes, and without thinking at all about it. As you’ve just woken up, the latter part of this...the ‘not thinking’ part won’t be too hard at all. If you keep the pen and pad by your bed right beside the clock at glass of water, it will be hard to bypass it. 
  • Lifehack recommends; Read great writers. This may sound obvious, but it has to be said. This is the place to start. If you don’t read great writing, you won’t know how to do it. Everyone starts by learning from the masters, by emulating them, and then through them, you find your own voice. Read a lot. As much as possible. Pay close attention to style and mechanics in addition to content. http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/a-guide-to-becoming-a-better-writer-15-practical-tips.html
  • Nina Milton recommends you find  a writing group  you can hit it off with. Search out a local writing group and ask if you can come along to see how they do things. Writing support is invaluable, and knowing you need to write for the next group meeting is a great motivator.
  • Susan Hill recommends you buy a copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook. Apart from  all the info you need to think about submitting, there are powerful articles https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/
  • Nina Milton recommends you go for a walk...alone. Let the ideas for your writing swirl around in your head. Take a notebook and pen.
  • Mslexia recommends you enter their short story competition. You have between now and the 16th of March to write your story and send it in. There’s a first prize of £2000 to get you salivating. Trouble is, you do have to be a woman; https://mslexia.co.uk/whatson/msbusiness/scomp_active.php 
  • Nina Milton recommends you switch modes; if you usually write onto a screen, switch off the PC and use a notebook. If you usually use pen and paper, force yourself to write on your laptop.
  • Stephen King recommends you first write for yourself, and then worry about the audience.
  • Nick Barton ( @NickBarton101 ) recommends  cutting out all the tempting opportunities from this month's @WritingMagazine. 
  • Nina Milton recommends joining a writing course. Local writing courses that started in September may now have ‘fall offs’ and so room for you. You’ll have to work hard to catch up and that will really get the blood pumping
  • Writer’s Relief recommends The Happy Writer ebook to kick start your 2015 http://writersrelief.com/the-happy-writer-ebook/
  • Rachel recommends marketing your work while you are writing (just to add the pressure) http://rachelintheoc.com/2014/12/top-3-writing-marketing-tips-author/
  • Nina Milton recommends taking out a subcription to a writing magazine in the new year. Writing Magazine is the market leader; Writer's Forum is also loved. Mslexia has the edge though, and you can still read it if you're a bloke.
  • Fiction Writing Tips ‏@WritingCraft recommends you , check out this online editiing tool… http://socialpolitan.org/fiction-writing-craft/page/AutoCrit.php
  • Nina Milton recommends that you just get on with it by trying a freewrite
    • Choose a topic, perhaps a single word, to stimulate and encourage you. 
    • Decide on a time limit, say ten minutes. 
    • go for a winter walk
    • Start writing. Allow your thoughts to ‘drop down’ onto the paper in an unfocused way. 
  • It doesn’t matter if the topic changes. It doesn’t matter what you write.
  • Once you start writing, you must not stop. You must not lay down your pen at all. If you run out of things to say, write…I can’t think of what to say…or…what shall I write, what shall I write…or repeat the last word you wrote or any other repetitive phrase over and over until you get going again (it won’t be long).
  • Do not stop to correct your work.  Don’t correct spellings, grammar or punctuation or the proper sequence of events. Try not to cross things out.
  • Use memory and your thought processes to keep writing. For example, your subject is ‘sky’ and you begin writing about stars. Then a memory of lying on your back watching the clouds comes to you, but as you write about that, you recall what you did before or after watching the clouds, so you write about that, and as you do so, you get interested in writing about the people you were with. When memory runs out, you make stuff up. 
  • Remember, that none of this need see the light of day. The reason you never need to stop writing is because it really doesn’t matter what you write.   
  • Read through your work straight away – especially if you don’t think you’ll be able to read your writing later – and use a highlighter to outline the parts you think are worthy of keeping. 
  • Feel free to add further thoughts or expand the ones that are already down.
  • Combine two recommendations! Try Freewriting when you first wake up in the morning. By writing in this half-trance state, you lift the lid to your internal world. 

Friday, 19 December 2014

How Am I Doing? Every writer wants an answer to that one


How am I doing? Almost all my students ask me that. Some ask me very regularly, some only at the beginning or end of their time with me. In fact, I think every writer wants an answer to that question, but not every writer has a tutor, or mentor who can help them. 

And in fact, you don't need someone to tell you the answer – you can easily find it out for yourself. In fact you can keep an eye on your progress as a writer as much as you like.

Jean Burnette, author of Who Needs Mr Darcy and
A Brazilian Affair, ready at her writing desk
I recommend that my students and writing buddies buy a notebook. Actually, I recommend they buy several – loads of notebooks – but just one of these will become the key to monitoring your own writing progress. I suggest that you call this your 'Progress Notebook'. (Open College of the Arts students have a different name for it, which they already know, of course.) This notebook will be where you actually write about your own writing. I recommend that you do this at least once a week - more frequently if you write every day or most days. This sort of analysis is very like the 'reflective practice' you may be asked to undergo in your paid employment, but it shouldn't be such an onerous task! 

Reflecting on the progress of your ‘writing life’ in this way will increase your ‘learning curve’ considerably – amazingly.  Even though it’s possible you may think you have no ‘progress’ to record at the moment – even though you're hardly writing more than a shopping list – thinking about your own writing in this way can be massively beneficial.

Your Progress Notebook can help you talk through your writing. It’s important to help yourself to make sense how it works for you – how your thought processes relate to your growing battery of skills and understanding. When you put all this down in words it begins to be understood on an intellectual level…whereas, when writing, you may be learning more on an intuitive level. It’s like ‘synergy’ in medicine – the idea that two separate things work okay separately, but together they work really well – more than twice as well. 

This is writing about the writing process, that is, the mental and practical activities that make the most logical progression towards a completed piece of work. It is the full process that takes the writer from nothing – not even the glimmer of an idea – to the completed manuscript, ready for printing. 

Even a small project or exercise has its writing process, shunting it steadily from conception to final proof-read. Your Progress Notebook can be of enormous help, recording how, why and when you…think about what you’ll write; draft it out; read and polish until you’re happy with it. 


You don't have to write realms. A hundred words or less can help you clarify problems and address them. Even so, at first, even bearing in mind all the above, you might find it hard to know what to put down in a Progress Notebook. Sectionalizing your analysis may help your understanding. Try writing about:
  • What works for you as a writer, and what you find difficult
  • Why you’re choosing certain genres and ways of writing…or thinking of doing so 
  • What you think about your abilities – track their improvement
  • Commentaries on the books you have read and how they inspired your writing
  • The pitfalls and joys of the writer’s life
If you can't think how to begin, try commenting on some specific piece, such as some writing exercises. You can find these all over the internet, including sites which offer a 'trigger' on a daily basis. I've included one below, so that you can start straight away. Complete the exercise, read it through, think about it and write down those thoughts, whatever they may be. 

As the first weeks of owning and using a Progress Notebook move on, you'll be able to be a bit more specific about the things you're noting. You'll be able to talk to yourself about  ‘parts’ of your writing, for instance; your thoughts and your preferences on:
      • Reporting actions
      • Voicing opinions
      • Creating dialogue 
      • Description
      • Narrative lines and 'arcs'
      • Characterization
      • Structure and plot
      • Your understanding and clarification of concepts such as Show, don’t Tell
      • Problems of drafting, redrafting, tightening 
It has been said that writers are ‘born not made’, but they don’t come fully-formed from an egg – they have to practise their skills to hone them. Like musicians, writers do have to practise ‘over and over’, and it really does get better as you do that. Recording the slow improvements you make will help you see real progress. 

However, we’re all different, and will want to record our thoughts on progress and the writing process individually. You might prefer A4 sheets of lined paper rather than a small notebook. Or you might not get on with writing by hand at all, and prefer store your thoughts in an electronic file, reading them on the screen or printing them out to clip into a plastic file. Some writers find it better  to keep reflections in a ‘mind file’, where the cogitation on the writing process started in the first place. However, I do recommend physically making these notes and keeping them for reference – if only to aid any reflective summary you might be asked to submit to a tutor or mentor. And don't forget that a separate notebook helps will get your thoughts down in a more ‘private’ environment. 

Here is a writing exercise that will get you going.

Chose any one of the autobiographical subjects from the list below.

THE WARMTH OF A  KISS
TOO DIRTY FOR A BATH
A FOOL AND HIS MONEY
BEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE
ACROSS A CROWDED ROOM
A FRESH START
DRUNK AND DISORDERLY
BLAST FROM THE PAST
A TRAGEDY FULL OF JOY 
DARE TO CONFRONT YOUR FEARS
LAZY HAZY DAYS
THROW AWAY THOSE L PLATES 
DON’T SEND IT TO THE CHARITY SHOP

Now write a short account of a memory from your past life within the context of one of these titles. Remember…this is a fun exercise …try not to let it get on top of you don’t worry about the standard of the writing – you needn’t show anyone. 

Make a few notes below, then start in earnest on the next page.

Now record your thoughts and reflections – the opening entry in your new Progress Notebook. 

Just play with this…how you feel about enjoying your writing. Write freely, putting your thoughts down one paper as they come into your mind. Try to express why you want to write, and in what way(s) you enjoy the process