Tag Archives: advanced writer

SHARKS IN YOUR HEAD

When an idea has been living in your head for a long time and you sit down to write it, but find you can’t, don’t be too quick to jump to the conclusion that you’re suffering from writer’s block.

sharks

What may be holding you back from writing might well be fear. But fear of another kind. Fear that you won’t get it right. Fear that you haven’t quite got character X’s arc down pat, or fear that your sentences won’t be as crisp on paper as they are in your head. Welcome to analysis paralysis. It’s a curse and it’s a significant reason why so many writers don’t pick up their pens or don’t finish their stories.

 

It’s a good idea to let the little fish of story ideas swim about in your head for a while so that they grow into bigger fish from complimentary ideas that come from rumination. But you don’t want to overthink the story ideas to such a degree that you’ve overfed them into monsters before you even get writing.

 

Writing is an organic process, don’t kill that little fish by over-feeding it. As soon that small fish starts swimming about in the sea of your mind, start writing. Let it swim where it will, don’t try to direct it. Think balance. Think a little bit of structure and a little bit of spontaneity, you might give the fish a tank and a few toy castles to swim through, but you can not determine whether it will suck on the sides of the tank for a week or if it will dive in and out of the bits of seaweed. Likewise, let your story grow organically.

 

Often when we overthink a story, it doesn’t grow into our idea of what we thought it was going to be. While it’s all good and well to know your genre, have a strong cast of characters, and an exciting plot, don’t over-plan. Sure, you want to know where you’re going, but be open to surprise. A surprise in the writer will stimulate a surprise in the reader. Readers are smart and they don’t like predictability. If they wanted predictability they’d be doing maths. They’re reading because they want to be taken on an adventure. If you don’t go on an adventure, how can you expect them to enjoy the ride.

 

Some writers report that they knew the beginning and the ending of their stories and the middle just happened. Other writers get heart palpitations at the very idea of not being in full control. These are the control freaks and they suffer the most from analysis paralysis. Of course you can plot out every single scene of your story, but if you don’t allow for the creative inputs that come during writing, you’re going to short change not only your readers, but yourself as a writer. Don’t be a slave to your story, instead, think of writing as taking your story’s hand and walking along the road together to discover where it is that you want to go. There is nothing more stifled or strangled than a story that’s forced in a certain direction.

 

There’s no place for the analytical mind in the drafting experience. In those early drafts where you just want to get the story down, it doesn’t matter if you have lapses, inconsistencies, crappy grammar, or two characters with similar names. Just allow your thoughts to put themselves on the page. Once you’ve got down a basic draft, the revision can begin, and that’s when you get to invite your analytical mind to the process. Revision is where you can deepen characters, tighten the plot, and correct your abhorrent spelling mistakes.

 

How can you force your analytical brain to take a step back during the creative process? If analysis paralysis stymies you during the pre-writing phase, stop trying to get it all write. Make notes of your ideas, it doesn’t matter if they’re good or bad, don’t judge them, just get them down. Research if you must, but avoid becoming so overwhelmed by information that it smothers your idea. Research shouldn’t be evident in your story, it should inform your story.

 

Most people claim to suffer from analysis paralysis once they start writing and get frustrated that they’re not getting all the stuff into the story, or that as soon as they put down a word they start judging themselves. Try these remedies. If you type your draft on a computer then set the font to no colour and just allow yourself to write whatever comes. Not being able to see what you’ve written allows your brain to face a blank welcoming page instead of a critical one staring back at you with errors. If you write long-hand, tuck a piece of carbon paper between two sheets and write your story with a pen that’s run out of ink so that you can’t see what you’re writing. Afterwards, when you’ve got the whole story down you can go back and revise on the carbon copy. By freeing your mind from judgement you can allow your creative mind free reign, and let your story find its natural form, and avoid analysis paralysis.

 

 

 

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Write on Course

I remember when I started writing again how at sea I felt. On the waves of an emerging literary boom in South Africa, I decided to dip my toes into the water. For many years I just wrote, churned out stories week after week without any idea as to who my reader might be or where I would send the stories to for publication.

I read every writing manual I could lay my hands on and scanned the internet week after week for a course where I might meet other wannabe writers. But alas there were no courses available and it was just by coincidence that I learned of the MA in Writing programme at Wits. It was certainly the catalyst that yanked my writing out of its status of dabbling and catapulted it into my life’s commitment.

There are obviously courses for horses and I would say the MA was a lucky bet for me; it provided exactly the didactic atmosphere that I enjoy. I learned a lot about craft – not everything, but a helluva lot. There are aspects of writing that I felt definitely were not given the attention they deserved, such as the ethics of writing and revision and editing.

Currently there are a lot of writing courses on offer and they are varied and seem tailor-made for the new writer who wants to try their hand. The range of topics is vast – romance writing, song-lyric writing, poetry, memoir, etc. Personally I find most courses geared towards the beginning writer who wants to specialise in a certain genre, yet there are other areas that could provide extremely interesting content for the more experienced writer, such as real travel writing, not tourist blurb; representation of the Other in contemporary literature; writing and meditation; how to use De Bono to generate stories. In fact, I think I will teach some of these classes …

Hereunder is a list of some of the companies offering courses. Please note the list is not exhaustive and it is given as a guide only:

http://www.sawriterscollege.co.za/ – S A Writers College offers a range of online courses and a user-friendly website with lots of interesting info for writers.  Their online short story course costs R2995.

http://www.cityvarsity.co.za/shortc/sc_journ/sc_fmj/shortc/sc_ctbdates/ – City Varsity in Cape Town offers a basic 5-week journalism course at a cost of R3500. It is held in the evenings, which makes it a viable proposition for people who work.

http://www.futureshock.co.za/nucourse.htm – South African Writers Network offer self-study modules at a cost of R350 per module.

http://www.intec.edu.za/live/content.php?Item_ID=103 – Intec offers self-study courses in Creative Writing and Journalism. Their price is R3760 to R4 178.

http://www.anneschuster.co.za/ – Anne Schuster offers the Women’s Writing Workshop. Appears to offer courses that focus on introspective writing – a good place to start – not a good place to stay for either yourself or your writing.

http://www.unisa.ac.za/Default.asp?Cmd=ViewContent&ContentID=7612 – UNISA (Pretoria) offer a correspondence BA in Creative Writing in both English and Afrikaans. Inquire at fees office for cost of this course or modules thereof.

http://www-za.iaj.org.za/index.htm?main_category=4 – Institute for the Advancement of Journalism(Parktown, Johannesburg) offers a range of courses during the year. User-friendly site, but again no costs advertised so you’ll have to email at print@iaj.org.za

http://web.wits.ac.za/Academic/Humanities/GSH/GraduateProgammes/MACoursework.htm – University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg). Many published graduates from this programme. No details on their website about the Creative Writing MA, may be in abeyance. Phone them to find out on 011-717-4032 or email them at gradschool@gsh.wits.ac.za

http://www.commerce.uct.ac.za/organisations/creative_writing/application.asp – University of Cape Town. Full details available for the MA they offer in Creative Writing. Lots of published graduates from this programme.

http://www.writersbureaucourse.com/?gclid=CNrx0Kr00pQCFQ8gQgodyil1lg – The Writers Bureau is an international correspondence course based in the UK and they offer a guarantee on their courses. Exchange rate may be prohibitive for some of the overseas-based online courses.

Things that you might like to consider when deciding on where to take a course are: Who is teaching the course – what are their credentials? What type of interaction will I have with teachers or mentors to help solve problems that I may encounter? What exactly will I learn on the course. Ask for an outline so that you know what will be covered and the learning level at which the course is pitched?

Accept that there is no single course that is going to provide solutions to all your writerly needs, but the benefits that accrue from learning your craft well and making contact with people who are literary minded are well worth it.