“The first draft of anything is shit.”
― Ernest Hemingway
From the advice of my tutor, I am now in the process of turning assignment 5 into a young adult novel. This seems a daunting task especially as I hadn’t thought of it as such when I started writing it as a short story. Having made the necessary edits on my last two assignments and reflective commentary, I’m starting to feel the pressure!
As I have worked my way through Writing 1: Writing Skills, my focus has been on producing short stories, and a couple of them would probably make for a better read if they were, indeed, longer. As my tutor comments: It does feel, however, as though you have a young adult novel struggling to burst from the confines of a short story. A novel would give you more room to breathe and to expand scenes that are now 1-2 lines only. Overall, you have the potential for a fascinating teenage narrator on your hands and could have a lot of fun developing the story further.
On writing short stories my tendency is to confine further development of characters and scenes because of the word count. As a consequence of this I slip into that literary faux pas: telling. I’m hopeful that as I progress with this degree showing becomes second nature and my short stories are more linear and concise.
That being said, my end goal is becoming a novelist, and although I never considered young adult as a genre of choice, I’m enjoying the freedom of writing about my teenager, Eliza Frewe and the pressure of producing the beginnings of a novel.
Re-draft, re-draft, re-write, edit…
I’m a terrible procrastinator. There’s always some notable distraction that takes me away from writing and I start to feel frustrated. I should by now have a routine where I leave the mundane chores for another time and let the dust settle, the laundry pile up and the dinner cook itself…like that’s ever going to happen. So, with that in mind, I decided to take myself off to Devon on a writers’ retreat for the final re-drafts of my three chosen assignments and reflective commentary.
Stickwick Manor sits majestically in the heart of the Devonshire countryside, where one is surrounded by lush green hills and rolling landscapes. I’m writing this blog from the dining room where, during the retreat its known as the writing room. I am sitting at a large Victorian mahogany table looking at an incredible view of green pastures, sheep, a lamb gamboling and a hazy sky. I can hear cock-a-doodle-doo and a braying donkey…oh my!
This is my second retreat with Urban Writers and I can’t recommend it enough. I arrived on Monday night (for a three night stay) to a welcome dinner of slow roasted pork with the most crispiest of crackling, stuffed butternut squash and green vegetables followed by white chocolate mousse (with a hint of basil) and of course, wine. Charlie, who runs Urban Writers is the most amazing cook and the produce on offer is fresh, seasonal and home cooked. Every meal is delicious…I can smell lunch as I write this and my mouth is watering…need I say more.
Having no distractions, well apart from braying donkey whom I’ve grown very fond of, I was able to write from 7.45am until 8pm with a break for breakfast and lunch, and a twenty minute walk in between. In all, I got so much writing done. It is a very relaxed atmosphere and on this retreat were six writers: one is a published author who is working towards a deadline for her second novel, two of us are doing a creative writing degree, there’s a playwright, an interpreter on his second novel, and an ad exec. Some of us wrote around the mahogany table, others wrote in their cosy bedrooms; it’s an interesting group.
The accommodation is more than comfortable, mealtimes are spent together and there’s a cake break (homemade) at 4pm or thereabouts.
In all, this has been a very welcome retreat. I’ve spent my time writing and achieved what I set out to do. And so, I leave this lovely place and head back to reality but not before booking my return.
Writing Skills is completed. Assignment 5 is sent and I eagerly await my tutor’s feedback. I feel much better about this assignment because I gave myself enough time to develop a story. I took notice of the assignments statement: step beyond most of the experiments and projects you have tried out so far, and move into a new territory where your emotions are hard at work behind the writing. Assignment 5 was a conscious decision to write from first-person perspective. All of my assignments up to this point have been written in third-person which is clearly my comfort zone. The challenge was writing a story in the voice of a sixteen-year-old girl.
For me, this assignment started to kick in from Project 5: Structure. I found the section on archetypal structures helpful in understanding the matrix of a story. I admit that until then I hadn’t really thought about novels or stories as an archetypal structure, but now that I have I’m beginning to understand the importance of it. From exercise 1 in project 5 The Changing of Eliza Frewe was born. I liked the idea of the rags to riches archetype where my character becomes opposed by this structure enough to create conflict.
I started to write the story before I read my tutor’s recommendation of The Fault in our Stars by John Green; it was purely coincidental that my character was also sixteen. On writing The Changing of Eliza Frewe, the way my teenage daughter speaks and uses the filler word like was evident in how I wanted Eliza’s voice to appear on the page. When I re-drafted the story I omitted the filler word, as I didn’t think it read well within the sentence structure. However, after reading The Fault in our Stars I decided against that and put the word like back in.
From this point I worked backwards and started to map my plotline using the clustering technique, and from my old notebook I took a discarded plotline and character and began mapping different conflicts and ‘what ifs’. There I was able to develop a beginning, middle and ending. This changed many times – endings seem more problematic to me than beginnings. I read the section on endings more than half a dozen times I think!
In all, this assignment had taken me out of my comfort zone but I’m glad that it did. I liked the challenge of voicing a sixteen year old girl along with her array of emotions. It remains to be seen if I succeeded in this challenge, I will know soon enough but for now I feel like totally gr8 its dun…
Assignment 5 is finished! Writing Skills is done…
3 Moleskine classic notebooks: 2 purple, 1 red
3 Moleskine reporter notebooks: black
5 Pilot V5 Precise extra fine pens: purple ink
2 Pilot V5 Precise extra fine pens: green ink
3 Pilot V5 Precise extra fine pens: red ink
Endless cups of tea
Morning cups of coffee
Chocolate biscuits : loads
Cake: lemon drizzle and fruit cake
Copious glasses of white wine
Copious glasses of red wine
Reams of white paper
And so, all that is left is re-drafting for assessment.
Bring on Poetry…
Oh dear…I’m deeply mortified about Assignment 4. I knew when I sent it off that it wasn’t good and boy was I right! I should’ve given myself more time instead of leaving it until the last minute…literally. It’s really important to do the exercises and take my notebook everywhere. When I look back at my first two assignments they were produced from a wealth of information and jottings from my trusty notebook, I wrote every day and gave myself time to develop them. Both of my last assignments were from old stories that I had written a long time ago, nipped and tucked here and there to little imagination. This must not happen again. If I can’t meet a deadline I will ask for an extension; so what If I don’t finish this degree in three years…it’s not the end of my world. As I near the end of Writing Skills 1 I’m relieved to have one more assignment left to write before I begin Art of Poetry. I want to redeem myself. If I’m being honest I never want to see Assignment 4 again so I’ve decided not to re-draft it for my assessment. I just want rid of it.
I have started Assignment 5 with great alacrity and hope to continue this course in a better frame of mind.