Saturday, 5 May 2012

Writing groups, project plans and a monkey puzzle tree

Good afternoon folks, I’m a little late getting down the ‘To-Do’ list this morning, but at last, I’m here. So, how the devil are you? I’ve had a decent week writing wise.
Last weekend, I mentioned that life had been somewhat chaotic but thankfully that has settled down and so, I’m back to my usual routines.

I have continued to work on draft one of my new project ‘To honour…’, though I have begun planning for the third idea I had which I mentioned last week had sprung from hibernation.  I’ve decided to give it a go, as a method of write one and plan one. But, listen, hear me out here, it may go completely wrong, but unless I try I won’t ever know. The decks are clearing regards the day job – come 1st June when I officially qualify I shall have less pressure on me and my Open University course is nearing the end, too. See, I have thought this through, honest. So, the writing plan at the minute is, draft one of ‘To honour…’ whilst planning ‘Freedom’ – which will allow me to alternate between the two projects. Anyway, it has worked so far, I’ll let you know how this second week goes.

Last Wednesday, I attended a Mad Hatter’s writers’ group where we performed a play ‘One day’ that I’d written as an exercise a while back. I don’t know how much involvement you’ve had regards writing groups but Mad Hatters is a pretty relax bunch, who occasionally set exercise for completion by the group. I think I’ve spoken of these before. My play was written for an exercise set at least a year ago, the instructions were to write a play with four characters, two from the modern era, two from history. Well, the possibilities are endless. I chose George Eliot and Laurie Lee, along with two members of the actual Mad Hatters’ writing group, one current, one long gone. I had set the play in the actual hotel where we meet, which feels quite strange when I read aloud the setting and the members look about at the decoration and surroundings. Anyway, the play is a bit of a giggle, as it imagines that George Eliot and Laurie Lee are aspiring writers desperate to be published and that one of the members is the glorious published writer with all the local landmarks named after him. As a side note, I recently set the current exercise, relating to a local grave that has a massive monkey puzzle tree growing from it – the group have to create a short story in two thousand words – the results will be read aloud next meeting 16th May. I’ll tell you about my entry further down.

Anyway, back to the writers’ meetings – I’m a member at two, Mad Hatters in Atherstone and Grace Dieu Writers’ Circle in Coalville. They are both very different, and yet both very necessary for me. As I said before, Mad Hatters is very informal, we don’t have subscriptions or minutes, chairpersons and that malarkey – we simply turn up and meet in a local hotel. The Grace Dieu group is quite formal with designated roles for chairperson, secretary and treasurer – plus a long history of writer and poets. I think the mix between the two groups helps me to stay focused, as if they feed me a vibe, which is so important for a writer or poet. Sorry, if I only say writers but I do mean poets, too. It took me a long time to find groups that I felt comfortable with. I had previously belonged to another local group but found that my needs weren’t addressed. The members were very nice, don’t get me wrong, but they were established and new comers, though welcome, were pushed to the side lines. I remember reading aloud a short story - everyone praised it, nodded politely and then basically said ‘next’. It just didn’t feel right for me, so I left after about six months and sought another. I’m grateful I did, otherwise I’d never have found the two that I do enjoy attending. So, it is very hit or miss, the other members are vital in making a group work. Even if they don’t write the same genre as yourself, their input and creative flow does rub off onto you and boosts your motivations. I have to say, there is also a great rapport that builds up where we each try to encourage and support each other in our various ventures. I simply entered ‘writers groups’ and my area postcode into Google search when I was searching – you’ll be surprised by the number that will appear. Or, decide to start up a group yourself – a few well placed adverts in libraries and book shops - stating a time and place in a local hotel or restaurant, who knows where it might lead!

As mentioned earlier, I’ve set the exercise about a local grave and a monkey puzzle tree. It is something that I see on dog walks and gets my mind wandering each time. I have written and edited my story, though I know other members are struggling to complete. I know from experience that each members work will be so different it is quite staggering that they all originate from the same source. I outline for those who aren’t writers how I begin a story, forgive me if I’m teaching you how to suck eggs, but I don’t know the experience of my followers. You might be a writer, but here’s how I begin tackling a story. I have to an initial inspiration, in this case the local grave with a large tree sprouting from it. I noted down the name and dates from the grave stone – I  now need to build from these piece of information. My mind immediately begins wondering who they were and what their life was about, so I visited a genealogy site and searched for basic details of that person’s life via the census records. I discovered he was a farm labourer back in 1851, his wife was a kitchen hand, a maid in other words, they had two children, a boy and a girl.  I shared my findings with the writing group so they also had the basic regards his life. It is from this point that we each go our separate ways regards story line. I walked about with these details germinating in my mind. I don’t write anything at this point. Ideas come and go during this process - certain ones grow and strengthen, a bit like green shots from as seed. Anyway, I have a bit of a thing about dates, and the year 1851 is quite significant to me, so I completed more research enabling me to link together the event and the life. Anyway, at that point I have jigsaw pieces that need connecting, the more my mind thinks about it the more it connects to create a basic plot. That is the point at which I sit at the laptop and actually write the first draft.  Some details get introduced as I write but my main focus is writing the basics that I’ve been mulling over for a few days. My first draft had a word count of 1988 – which is quite a lot given that the finished piece can’t exceed 2000. Once draft one is written I leave it for a few days – then re-read with fresh eyes, this is when I’ll edit out bits that aren’t necessary and re-arrange the paragraphs so the plot flows. For this story I had to add in a few details at the beginning of the story that come to fruition by the end. Again, I saved the draft and then left it for a few days and then last night in fact, I re-read aloud and decided it was finished. I’d told the story in the desired number of words and I feel have done justice to the task. I’ve now got to wait until Wednesday, 16th May to read it to the other members and receive their feedback.

And so, to today. Before I wrote this blog, I had spent an hour creating a piece for my scrap book relating to the installation of my poem ‘Jutt’ in Pooley Heritage Park. So, my first job is to stick that into my keep sake book, then I’ll be heading towards my desk to increase the word count of ‘To honour…’. We are enjoying a Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK, which gives me an extra day to the weekend, which I intend to spend writing.

Remember you can follow me on ‘Twitter’ by searching and following odwyer_author. Give me a nudge, ask me a question or simply make sure that I am doing as I promised.   Enjoy!

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