Last night we had the first meeting for 2010 of our writers’ groups at Tabor Adelaide, the university where I am doing my Master of Arts in Creative Writing.
This was a combined meeting of the various writers’ groups. With about 30 in attendance interest is high which is very encouraging. The shared pizza was nice too.
As part of the proceedings one of the lecturers had a long list of recent writing successes from various students, past and present. This must be encouraging to the staff as people are having success with their writing.
The main purpose for this meeting was to launch the annual anthology of writing from students and staff. Tales from the Upper Room has now seen its fifth edition and is going from strength to strength. The standard of writing is very high and competition to be included is intensifying as each new raft of students progresses through the various courses available.
Personal publishing success
I was pleased to see that four of my poems and two of my stories were chosen for the anthology this year. I also contributed parts of a baton poem, an exercise where we all took it in turns to contribute to a major poem.
Lectures in the creative writing courses start in a few weeks time, but I’m sure you can still enroll. Most courses are available externally. Click here to go to the website – just follow the links to the Humanities department. I can thoroughly recommend the courses as being very useful. Staff support is also great.
Last week I enjoyed reading the collection of inter-connected short stories called The Turning written by award winning West Australian author Tim Winton. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it was all I had hoped it to be. I’ll review it on these pages soon.
One of the most obvious strengths of the collection of stories is how Winton has drawn extensively on his childhood experiences growing up in rural Western Australia. This sense of time and place is powerful, and it set me to thinking and reminiscing about my own childhood. I grew up on a farm in the Murray Mallee districts of South Australia. the more I thought about it the more the memories came surging back. Some good, others I’d rather forget.
I was supposed to be on holiday last week, but there are times when the writer in me just cannot switch off. I actually wrote several stories and made notes for another one, all based on childhood experiences. At this stage I am too close to the stories to know whether they will stand alone as unique stories in their own right, or they will become a part of a much bigger work.
Drawing on childhood experiences is something all writers can do.
‘Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who has survived beyond the age of twelve has enough fictional material for the rest of her life.’ (John Dufresne in The lie that tells the truth)
What I have done with these memories of my childhood is to take a real incident – and fictionalise it. I changed the names – to protect the guilty – and often twisted or totally changed the events to suit the drama of the story. I distinctly remember a classmate breaking his arm while we were playing football. His reaction astonished me. I changed this incident to a broken arm during a cricket match. That’s the beauty of fiction: you can change or make up whatever you like. The stories read almost like a memoir – but much of the content is fiction. I’ve drawn on just one incident – the broken arm, for example – and let my imagination soar.
- Cast your mind back to your primary (elementary) school days.
- Think of one incident that sticks vividly in your memory.
- Write down exactly what happened – or as accurately as you can remember.
- Now rewrite it in a fiction form, bringing in imaginary characters, new incidents, a different ending – just let your imagination have free rein.
Yesterday I finished the first draft of my novel for children. I have been working hard on this over the last two months and finished it over a week ahead of the schedule I had set for myself. I love setting goals – and then achieving them. Now my creative brain needs a little break for a few days. Time to attend to a few other matters before launching into the rewriting phase.
Today I had a totally different writing task which took most of my attention. The whole point of writing, in my opinion, is to be published. Sure, there are people who write just for themselves and are totally happy with an audience of one. I guess my private journal writing comes into that category. Such writing is not aimed at a broader audience. Unless, of course, I become obscenely rich or infamously notorious as a result of my writing. Some people might want to read my private grumblings. But I doubt it.
Today I prepared some submissions for a publisher. I’m nearing the end of my Master of Arts course, and every year the humanities department calls for submissions from staff and students involved in the programme. The deadline is Friday, so I knew I had to get organised. Successful poems and stories are published in the annual anthology which is published in November. Last year I had a story and ten poems chosen which was very satisfying. This time around I have submitted eight poems and four short stories. It will be interesting to see which of them the editors choose.
One of the good things about this submission is that I could submit electronically. Makes the whole process relatively painless compared with sending off letters. Bit cheaper too.
Challenge to readers
Are you constantly writing but never sending off those stories and poems and articles you’ve slaved over so lovingly? The secret to getting published is no secret, really. You need to write, write, write and then submit, submit submit. And while waiting to hear back from the publishers, you need to write some more, and then write some more and then submit… I think you get the picture.
Send off a story or poem today.
Good writing – and may you see your writing in print soon. I know I will.
On Thursday of this week I attended my monthly writers’ group in Adelaide. It’s one of two I regularly attend; the other is devoted to poetry only.
We usually gather for pizza at 6pm and then start into reading and critiquing each other’s work. The readings are based on a challenge set the month before. We limit the activity to 1000 words so that everyone gets a go at reading and having their work critiqued. A good attendance is about 6-8 people, but this week we had 12 eager participants, 7 of whom had risen to the challenge of writing a short story.
This was the fun part. The challenge we had appeared to be very hard, but we all found it very interesting. We were asked to take a poem written by a fellow student which was published in last year’s anthology. This poem had some interesting Nordic references and names, which made the task even more challenging.
The writing task was as follows:
- Take the first word of the poem and use that as the first word of the first sentence of the story.
- Take the second word of the poem and use that as the first word of the second sentence.
- Take the third word of the poem and use this as the first word of the third sentence.
- Follow this pattern until you get to the end of the story – or the poem – whichever comes first.
The variations were wonderful. Using the same words we came up with seven quite different stories. These included:
- A recount of a classroom teacher grappling with unusual student names in the class.
- A stream of consciousness account of someone justifying why she should murder her mother.
- An account of the arrival home of a Viking raiding party.
- An snippet from a Shakespearean like scene written almost completely in iambic rhythm (this was my effort).
Try it for yourself as a writing challenge. Take a poem – any poem – and try it. Last year we used a Robert Frost poem. Use one of your own poems. Whatever. You could be pleasantly surprised at the result.
Have fun with your writing.