Fulfilling Goals

It’s just less than one week after my birthday and already I’m fulfilling goals from the list that I made last week: Turning 23

On Sunday night I entered the Celestial Bodies poetry contest that was being run by Platypus Press.

Sunday 8th October was the deadline and I consider myself very lucky that I was able to submit for the competition. Especially because, I only had about half of the poems I wanted by Saturday 7th October. Sometimes, no matter how much we want it or how hard we try, if the words aren’t there then we can’t scribble them down.

Yet, faint hearts never won fair maidens so I buckled down, put pen to paper (literally, I was using a nice notebook for initial drafts) and I wrote no less than 19 poems in two days.

Don’t get me wrong, it was difficult. I never write poetry without feeling emotionally drained afterwards and it took all of Monday and most of Tuesday before I felt steady again after that outpouring of words but, I am so pleased that I reached my goal. I’m also pretty proud of the work I sent in. 

Not only was it challenging to write enough poems to be viable for submission but, I don’t enter a lot of writing competitions (hence why I made the goal to enter at least one this year). Platypus Press was definitely offering one amazing opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. Entering the competition meant that I knew I had to be brave because sending in anything that you know is going to be reviewed can be a little scary but after I clicked that send button I was so relieved that I’d taken the chance.

I knew about the publisher Platypus Press before I heard about the competition because I was introduced to the amazing poet Elisabeth Hewer a couple of years ago via a friend who loved her work and I have her book Wishing For Birds. She wrote so many great lines for that collection. I think that Love Letters From Helen Of Troy and Space Race are two of my favourites from her first book.

As I look back at my own work, I’m still really happy with all of my poems (not always the case with writing but, it’s really nice to feel this way about it) which made it a little bit harder to pick out a couple of my favourite lines to share but I eventually chose these from a poem called Reading The Sky:

such a long time ago and we still
navigate our way through the dark by
telling each other the same old stories.

 

 

I also wanted to say that I’m on day 11 of #inktober and I’m having a lot of fun as I try to come up with something new for the prompts every day.

 

Advertisements

Turning 23

Tomorrow is my birthday and, as the title says, I’m going to be 23.

For me, this means that it’s been over a year since I graduated from university with my undergraduate degree (first class honours 😉 ) and I’ve been trying to remember what was on the list I made when I turned 22.

What is the list?

A few years ago I read this post where the person made a big list about everything they’d accomplished in the previous year and then they wrote down all of the goals they wanted to achieve in the next year. They wrote this list on or around New Years Day but I’m never that eager to contemplate BIG IDEAS at the end of the year so I started doing it on my birthday just to see if it was an idea I could keep up with.

So far, I’ve kept writing these lists since I was about 20.

These lists are just for me and I usually don’t read these lists again (I’m lucky if I can find them by the time a year has passed) and I try to keep most of the goals realistic. It works to kind of clear my mind so that I can move forward.

Last year, the list of what I’d achieved was pretty impressive considering that I’d graduated from university, published/project managed an anthology of poems and I started learning how to ride a horse for the first time in my life.

This year, I will admit that it’s been one of those year’s where you look back and wonder, “Where did the time go?” but, I have managed to think of a few things that I am really proud of.

  • I worked as an arts administration intern at the beginning of 2017 and it was so interesting (everyone I worked with were really nice as well).
  • I have been blogging since November 16th 2016 and I have not missed a week in posting something new.
  • I wrote a poem every day during February which was so consistent that I was pretty impressed.
  • I helped to organise and I attended a lecture/book event in Sunderland for the graphic novel ‘The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia’ by Mary and Bryan Talbot (I blogged about it at the time: Learning About Revolutionary Women).
  • I was in a video blog for the first time ever which can, as always, be seen here: Pottercast: What The Films Did Better Than The Books. Thank you Cara for that experience.
  • I joined a local art group which has been a lot of fun.

 

In all honesty, I’ve struggled a little bit to come up with a list of personal goals for next year but I eventually decided on a few.

  • Enter a writing competition.
  • Develop my blogging skills: think about doing book reviews, discussions, ect. (using Twitter more is also included in this goal)
  • Go to see a play (I love the theatre but, it’s rare that I get the opportunity to actually go and see a live performance).
  • Go to a book themed event such as a signing/fair/other.
  • Improve my photography skills.

 

This October I’m also taking part in #inktober for the first time and I’ve posted something every day so far on Twitter @TeganMStevenson (I know, it’s only been 4 days at this point but I’m still counting it as an accomplishment).

 

Time And Time Again

Time is going to sneak it’s way into your story whether it’s intentional or not.

It’s one of those concepts that we perceive as fact, so we use it. From the time of day to the day of the week, all of these details can help a reader keep track of the character’s journey. Whether it’s early morning sunshine spilling into the room or a cotton candy pink sunset, time is one of the main ways that we relate to the world around us.

Every writer has to learn the art of condensing a moment that could have over a thousand tiny details into a paragraph or two so that you don’t bore the reader before you get to the point. The time of day can be a part of building a scene but, a day in the life of a character is never described in its entirety. You might as well save the paper and focus on the good parts because the goal is to keep a reader’s attention.

The sense of time in a story can be very tied into the pace and genre of a story. For example, a suspense story laden with tension will contain drawn-out, detailed scenes. This may imply that it feels like a long time has passed within one short scene, whereas an action adventure scene with roughly the same amount of pages may employ short bursts of dialogue and a lot of movement to imply that time is moving more rapidly. For a writer to convince a reader that their story is moving at the right pace they should find a balance between reality and importance. The amount of time that passes for the character from beginning to end should be realistic – an epic quest is unlikely to be completed in a day – but they shouldn’t forget to share the good parts of the journey.

As for an overall sense of time in a piece of writing there is a difference between short stories and novels.

When it comes to short stories I was once given the advice: Don’t include more than one or two days of your character’s life at the most. This advice has served me pretty well. Limiting yourself to keeping the events of the story between a short period of time can help keep the focus on the important parts of the story instead of risking getting sidetracked by subplots.

Obviously a novel, or sometimes a novella, doesn’t follow the same rule as a short story. A novel will (usually) take place over more than a couple of days so that a reader will see much more of the character’s life than you would in any short story. Also, in a novel you’re much more likely to see significant ‘skips’ in time. This is a transition between chapters or paragraphs where your character moves from one scene to another and any irrelevant details (for example, it doesn’t always matter every time if they travelled by car or if they walked unless it’s a plot point) are removed so that the reader doesn’t lose interest in the action. A skip can be anything from a few minutes to months (or years) and making this jump seem natural, like most great writers, comes with practise.

Last Year

On Friday the Spectral Visions Press Tarot Collection will have been available to buy for an entire year.

tarot-cover-image

This book is the culmination of a project I worked on during my third year at university. As the first complete collection combining art with poetry from Spectral Visions Press the team and I are still very proud of the work we put in to the project.

In response to the news of it being a year since the book became available for purchase my co-editor Danielle Shaw simply said, “Wow.” Her poem Demeter’s Daughter which was written for the fifth piece of artwork in the collection, The Hierophant, delves into the history of the illustration and the poem has some of my favourite imagery in the collection.

Another author and member of the team, Jack Gray said, “It’s always a good opener when you tell people that you have something published in a real book. I’m very proud of it actually. One of the best poems I’ve ever written.” Jack’s poem The Sun was written for the nineteenth image and it’s a wonderful example of free verse.

The collection is unique to the publisher with 21 different poets and one illustrator inspired by the tradition of the major arcana of tarot. The foreword by Dr Ruth Heholt delves further into the history of the tarot tradition and we were delighted that she agreed to write such an opening for our book.

I’ve written a little bit about the process we went through during the project before. My very first blog post One Year Ago… was written last November and marked a year since I and Danielle Shaw were asked to take charge of the project. I also wrote a guest blog for the Spectral Visions Press blog: Introducing The Spectral Visions Press Tarot Collection

Re-Organising My Writing Files

Whether it’s pages in notebooks or documents on the computer as a writer I tend to accumulate a lot of words.

So, going back through these pages can be a little intimidating. Especially if, like me, you’re trying to organise what you’ve got so that you don’t lose anything you might actually want to use one day.

While I was at university I wrote a lot down (makes sense considering that I was doing an English degree). It’s now been just over a year since I graduated (with first class honours so all of those words were totally worth it) and I haven’t really sorted any of it out. I know that I want to keep most, if not all, of my work but sorting through weeks of lecture notes was not a priority to anyone except from myself.

Not all of my documents are unordered. All of my paper copies of university assignments that were returned have been put into order in a file folder. (I wish that I’d saved all the electronically returned ones somewhere so, Top Tip: Save Everything Just In Case).  Mostly, the electronic notes etc, are the files that were saved outside of document folders so that I could find them immediately while I was doing my assignments.

Now, I’m feeling a little bit more prepared to tackle all of my files including years of original writing (I know, I might be a little bit crazy).

Some of my fellow writers have said outright that they hate going through old pieces of writing and I can understand why. I like to think that I’m alright with looking at something I wrote a while ago and thinking “Oh hey, I’ve improved” but, I’m not immune to thinking instead, “This is horrible. What was I thinking?” It’s a process.

Where am I going to start?

I have no idea. To be honest, there are a lot of files and I can’t remember what are in some of them. Actually taking a look is going to take up some time. I’m currently thinking that sorting everything into files going back the years is the place to start, e.g. 2017, 2016, 2015… Then I’ll probably put all of my creative and academic work into different folders. Basically, I’m just going to have to narrow everything down until my files don’t feel like they’re all clumped together. Oh, that sounds like a lot of work when I consider how many files and folders I currently have.

It’s not the most interesting work to some people but, I’ve been writing and saving my original work for a few years now. I think that my writing deserves a place somewhere even if it’s not something I’d ever show somebody else. Besides, maybe in looking back I’ll find that one idea I can make better and really give it the attention it deserves.

Wishful thinking? Ha, maybe, but if I’ve taken the effort to save the work then I must’ve found worth in it at one point or another.

At the very least, being able to find everything without trying to remember whether it is saved on my memory stick or the computer or somewhere else has got to have it’s advantages.

Technical Writing

Not every piece of writing has to be ‘creative’. Technical, or instructional, writing is everywhere from an aeronautics manual to a press release to a recipe book.

Even though there is a vast range of subjects where this style of writing can be applied, they do have a few defining traits in common. Providing instructions, often step-by-step, to follow is one of the usual objectives but, communicating effectively and with determinate knowledge is also essential for any piece of technical writing. If the author doesn’t really know the subject they’re writing about then a reader usually isn’t convinced by the results. Above all the information should be 100% accurate.

Technical writing can be a bit of a specialist’s field, especially with more complicated topics such as medical procedures, but if you’re knowledgeable about a particular subject and you’re always willing to learn more then you could have the interest required to become a good writer. Whether it’s books, the internet, a magazine or other, there are a lot of examples to find.

A technical writer should have a talent for giving clear and precise instructions but they should also be able to convey complicated information so that it is easy to understand. The writing should also appeal to a target audience as the information will be expected to be read by a certain range of people. Someone learning to cook for the first time is much more likely to want a simple, easy-to-follow recipe rather than instructions for a five-course gourmet meal (although, of course, you never know) and a technical writer should be aware of this.

Most people will be expected to write a piece of technical information at one point or another. Job applications are another example of technical writing as it doesn’t give detailed instructions but it does provide factual information about a specific subject.

If you are looking to try technical writing I recommend that you start simply and it doesn’t hurt to look at writing by other people for a little bit of help concerning the formal style. Find a subject that you know a lot about for example cooking or sewing or building a plane, maybe it’s something you’ve done a lot, and write down everything because you can always edit out anything unnecessary later on. You might not do anything with the piece of writing when you’re done but, maybe you’ll show a skill for the process. Maybe someone will use your knowledge to help them learn something new.

Another Hobby Of Mine

Writing and reading aren’t my only hobbies but, they are the two pastimes I indulge in the most because I enjoy it.

However, I’m sharing a little bit about a different interest this week. Another of my hobbies is cross stitching and this weekend I finished a project I’ve been slowly working on over the summer.

IMG_20170830_190518

My sleepy lion cub was a pattern and kit I bought last year via Hobbycraft from the company DMC, they call the pattern ‘Mischief / Le lionceau assoupi’, and it’s the largest cross stitch pattern I’ve finished so far. I think that the kits can be great if you’re looking for a particular picture or if you want a good guide (but they can sometimes get a little expensive so, if you want to stitch you should look out for that).

I’m not sure exactly how long this particular project took me to finish because I worked on small sections of it here and there. It wasn’t until I was reaching the end of the project during the last week or so that I was working on it more or less every day. Then there were only the small back stitch details (a.k.a. the whiskers, etc.) to do. Normally I’m not a fan of stitching the fiddly outline or details, it’s just not my favourite part if the process, but on this project it wasn’t so bad and I’m very happy with the final image. It looks pretty good.

My previous cross stitch have been smaller (Confession: I have a big winter scene that I started last year and haven’t finished yet. I’m hoping to finish it by Christmas this year but, that’s also what I said last year. It’s a big scene) but the small projects can also be a lot of fun and they don’t take as much time to finish. I’ve found that small kits can cost anything from £1 and up.

IMG_20170830_204201

This kitten cross stitch is framed because it was one of my first projects but, framing all of them doesn’t really work because I only have so much space so, I find that photo albums are great to keep all of the smaller projects together.

IMG_20170830_190329

I like that they can be really colourful and I’ve been saying lately that I’d love to have a go at designing my own (I have a really shiny silver thread that I bought on a whim and nothing to do with it at the moment). Cross stitching isn’t the same kind of mind set for me as writing and reading is because I find myself more aware of what is going on around me as I’m counting stitches but I find that it can be really satisfying once you have a finished picture.

Thinking About Shakespeare

My brother’s about to go into his final year of secondary school and he’s told us that he’ll be studying Macbeth in the run up to his final GCSE exams.

Of course, that reminded me of when I had to study Macbeth for my GCSE exams. Unfortunately, and honestly, I remember that it was boring. How? It’s a play about MURDER! Lots of murder! Can you see where I’m baffled by the lingering feeling of boredom surrounding that period of my life? Have you ever had a teacher who went over one tiny, insignificant point over and over again? Yeah, that’s basically what it felt like back then. Thanks to that experience, I wasn’t exactly fond of Shakespeare at the time. That changed.

Thankfully, college turned that around. In my final year we were assigned the play King Lear. I didn’t know anything about it when we started and now it is one of my favourite plays (It’s on at the Globe Theatre in London until the 14th October and I would LOVE to go and see it performed if I get the chance).

In a nutshell, the play begins with King Lear who is about to divide his kingdom between his three daughters but before he does, he asks them which one of them loves him the most. Obviously, he just wants to be flattered and pandered to but it doesn’t work out like he expects it to. The opening scene does an amazing job of setting up expectations for the rest of the play as well as suggesting that many expectations will be broken in the following acts.

Can I just say that in my opinion, King Lear has one of the best subplots of Shakespeare’s plays. A big part of this subplot the character Edmund, Gloucester’s illegitimate son, is fascinating from his motivations to his actions because he’s somehow complicated and simple at the same time. He’s definitely what I would call an interesting villain. From a literary point of view, King Lear is packed with themes, etc. and the tragedy has so much to offer for analysis if you’re studying it. I find it to be such a clever play whether you’re reading it or you’re watching it.

As an audience member I have seen the play performed live and it was captivating. There’s a lot of emotion packed into the play as it follows King Lear, among others, who is stripped of his rights as a ruler, his family, his support network, his independence and his own mental faculties at various points in the play. I will admit that seeing Shakespeare performed is a much different different experience to reading it. Obviously intended for the stage, understanding Shakespeare comes with seeing the story come to life in front of your eyes.

College showed me just how clever Shakespeare is and how he wrote about humanity more than anything else. There are so many relatable elements if you look. I also took the chance to see Henry V performed at the Globe Theatre and it was the most incredible experience. Being at the theatre itself was amazing but the actual play was so compelling and powerful that it was absolutely worth the two to three hour train ride to London and back.

I’m lucky that my mum also rediscovered an interest in Shakespeare at approximately the same time I was studying at college and finding my own interest in the plays because they started showing a few of the Globe-on-Screen productions on Sky Arts. Filmed at the Globe Theatre each production offers wonderful casts of actors and actresses. Her favourite is probably Twelfth Night where it’s an all-male cast like it would’ve been when the plays where originally performed and it honestly makes the gender confusion in the play even funnier, plus Stephen Fry gives a fantastic performance as Malvolio.

I think that my favourite production in that series is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a delightfully complicated play as well as being funny and I just adore the performance between Oberon and Puck, played by the fantastic actors John Light and Matthew Tennyson.

Combined, we both love As You Like It. It’s the play with the famous ‘seven ages of man’ speech but as all of the characters stumble their way towards a happy ending there is a lot of joy to be found in the play.

My enjoyable experience in studying King Lear and finding those fantastic Globe-on-Screen productions went a long way towards my decision to take the Shakespeare module during my third year at university even though there was an on-campus exam (I was used to handing in coursework by that point). There were a lot of plays packed into one semester but my lecturer, Dr Alison Younger, was wonderfully enthusiastic and every week had something different to look forward to.

We went from Richard ii to The Tempest in one hour lectures and two hour seminars and I will admit that I have never had so much fun in an exam. Stay with me here, where else can you write an English exam about cross dressing in literature?

Yes, I focused on Twelfth Night and The Tempest and I was actually prepared to write one paper about gender play and another about power imbalance and abuse of power in all of the relationships. I am totally proud to say that I got a first for that exam.

Actually liking Shakespeare made a huge difference in how calm and ready I felt for that final exam (I also did that well in my coursework by the way) which is why I hope that when it comes to my brother’s studies he won’t have the same discouraging experience that I had.

Critique Follows Writing

While I was at university we did a lot of sharing our creative work with other people. Some people get used to it and others don’t but critiquing someone’s original work can be daunting, especially in the beginning.

It’s important to find a balance between honesty, a supportive attitude and constructive comments when you’re looking at a piece of work that somebody is aiming to improve or share with a wider audience once you’ve seen it.

I’m lucky that some of my friends still share their work with me when they want a new opinion. One particular friend asked me the other day if I’d take a look at a piece of creative work that she was doing for an assignment. Of course I was happy to say that I would read it and offer any comments if I could.

I do a couple of things when I’m critiquing.

First of all, I read through the entire story without making a single comment. I don’t want to be thinking about the use of grammar while I should be gasping at a dramatic plot twist. Getting a good overview means that I can focus on the smaller details without getting too distracted.

Secondly, I look at the grammar. Usually this involves reading the story quickly, or skimming, so that my eyes will pause on anything that doesn’t look quite right. This technique can take a little bit of practice if you don’t read a lot or on a regular basis. In my experience, another way of catching sentences that need a bit of help is to read the story out loud. I did this a lot at university, especially with my own work, because if a sentence doesn’t sound right as you say it then it won’t look right either.

Thirdly, I’ve been known to highlight sentences that I like, or rarely dislike, and point them out to the author. The story has to look right line by line but it also has to flow as a cohesive piece. One sentence can really change a piece of writing but this isn’t a step I’ll always feel the need to take in my critiquing. Although I have also highlighted an entire, excellent paragraph before just because I loved it. This is also, if needed, when I look at any content in the story that doesn’t fit.

Finally, leave a comment at the end of the story. I like to leave my critique on a positive note because an author should be helped to improve but I think that they should also be encouraged and told when they are doing well. You should always, always be honest in your final comment. Whether or not you personally liked the piece, explain your reasoning and if they mentioned any part that they wanted you to look at in particular then you should address that directly. Writing a final comment is often my attempt to sum up what I thought of the story overall.

I find it a great privilege to be asked to look at someone’s unfinished work and I’m glad when a comment I have made might help.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑