‘Creative WHAT?’ – The different reactions I get from saying I’m a Creative Writing student

As the second term of my MA Creative Writing comes to an end, the boot camp element of our learning experience has been completed and we’re pretty much off on our own now, intermittent workshops and tutorials along the way. At this point, being part of a writers’ community is an undeniable and wonderful part of my life, which most of my friends and family know and accept. But it’s quite funny what sort of diverse reactions you can still get from saying you are on a creative writing course to other people. Apart from encouraging words of support, which I of course appreciate very much, there are several types which I’d like to describe here quickly:

  1. The ‘Creative WHAT?’-type
    More common among non-British or non-native English speakers, mostly because the concept of creative writing as something to learn in an academic setting, is often unheard of abroad. The “what?” can range from neutral ignorance to a derisive judgment that clearly in their eyes, creative writing cannot be considered a subject to study. We’re not naïve/stupid enough to believe we can be taught how to be a best-selling authors, but there’s still a lot in the art of writing that can be taught, much like even the best musicians or artists are not only born with a natural talent but have been taught along the way to grow that talent. Equally, if you’re absolute rubbish, throwing money into courses will only get you that far and we know that too.
  2. The ‘Are you writing about ME??’ paranoia-type
    Prevalent especially among my work colleagues, there seems to be some deep-rooted fear/paranoia that we must be writing about the people around us. To that I’d like to say, 1. Seriously, I have more interesting things going on in my life and 2. I did say CREATIVE writing, right? Although for some characters/scenes/ideas, I may draw from real life experiences, fiction is fiction because it’s fiction. Get it? So, while I might concede that some things are drawn from reality, a reason why I like writing is that writing can go beyond reality, bending time and space, allowing for anything to happen on a piece of paper.
  3. The ‘Oh, I’ve got a great story you can write about!’-type
    In stark contrast to the previous type, this one WANTS us to write about them and then goes into great detail about their story idea. You can tell us your idea and I really don’t mind. The more I know about the world, the more material I have. But do bear in mind that someone who has decided to become a writer hasn’t done so because he has one idea he wants to write about. Most of us just want to write A LOT and have loads of ideas and if anything, are struggling to choose what to write about within that. Still, thank you for any of your suggestions.
  4. The ‘So, are you going to be the next Man Booker Prize/Nobel Prize in Literature winner?’-type
    This can come in various tones from absolute sarcastic joke to naïve belief that this can just be done like that. To those that joke, I’d like to say, why not? It could be! More likely me than you, who is not writing, right? And to those that believe it’s possible, I thank you for that belief in me but I’d also like you to understand that it’s not that easy. Just like you could be an office worker who never gets promoted, we could be writers who never get published. The spectrum is large and while most of us wouldn’t say no to a prize, we’re equally happy to accept that we can be writers (even good writers!) without that.
  5. The ‘I always wanted to write too!’-type
    Well, go on! Write! You can write for yourself or join a group and if you choose the latter, there are endless opportunities from short one-day courses, through to regular creative writing groups and university-certified courses like mine. I encourage anyone who ever thought to write, to write!

Anyone wants to share their experiences? Write me! 🙂

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New Year’s resolution 2014: a commitment to writing

At what point does a fuzzy reflection turn into a defined ambition?

Around this time a year ago, I started my first creative writing course at City University. The poster I saw every day walking up Barbican station to my job in the London finance world, had gradually burnt itself into my mind until one not so busy day, I browsed and search, eventually finding myself drawn to “Creative Writing.”

From the deepest dark caves of my memory, a childhood self (a little girl always thought to be a boy by others) beckoned me, pushing me to remember the first answer I ever gave to the question “What do you want to become when you grow up?” A writer.

Despite this ambition long forgotten, graduating in mathematics I scratched the larger field of writing once becoming a financial news correspondent in Tokyo for a a large US newswire, and left quickly ticking an imaginary box of accomplishment. But what if the dream could be revisited, not just lightly brushed but fully soaked?

And so, in January 2013, I found myself attending “An Approach to Creative Writing,” a handholding Kindergarten-like experience of the subject of writing gently told by an ever so patient and not too expectant Caroline Natzler. Not life-changing though mind-stimulating enough, after the 10 weeks experience, I joined yet another course, Katy Darby‘s “Novel Writing and Longer Works.” This course, just as the previous one, had no entry requirements and one of the more practical aspects for signing up was that it ran at the same time as the first course, making it easier to coordinate with my work colleagues. If the first was the Kindergarten version, this certainly had more of an A level feel to it, Katy Darby setting clear targets on what had to be produced: a 500 words synopsis to a novel idea and an up to 5000 words first chapter. It was a steep learning curve but at the end of the course, I found myself with exactly those two pieces, encouraged by the feedback and constructive criticism from my fellow students, workshopping writing for the first time.  (for more detail, see my older comment on these courses here)

Creative writing was gaining a new shape from a capricious evening activity in an attempt to wind down from work to a more defined hobby I wanted to share with the world. A very raw first chapter and an idea in hand, I applied and was accepted to the “UEA/Guardian Masterclass: How to complete a first draft of a novel.” Although just a number, the larger financial burden was a big step towards a committed relationship with writing.

With the course starting in September, I have since, apart from working on my novel, attempted to increase my writing output in any sort of form. “Just write!” was all I demanded from myself at first, creating a Twitter alter ego linking myself to all forms of writing related personalities and working on resurrecting my own blog from its comatose state, documenting my life in London.

Several months down the line and an entire year of writing to look back to, I’ve decided to step up my commitment another notch by creating yet another blog, this time dedicated to creative writing only. Why did it take me this long? (Or is it really that long?) It was the fear of the result possibly being an empty blog with nothing to say. Still, the ambition and commitment have triumphed and I’ll take the challenge to fill these virtual pages with something creative and meaningful.

So I thank all of you in advance, who are here to share this experience with me. x

Liar’s League – Creativity on the 2nd Tuesday

Expanding on my recently developed passion for creative writing, I had a new London experience yesterday going to Liar’s League, an event partially run by my last creative writing tutor, Katy Darby. No, Liar’s League is not some criminal association, but a themed monthly fiction night where selected short stories are read out by professional actors.

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Their motto is “Writers write. Actors read. Audience listens. Everybody wins.” And despite not being much of a performing arts lover myself (usually rather feeling like I just wasted a few hrs of my life knowing I’ll never get them back), I must admit I quite enjoyed this experience (apart from the food served…).

The themes are advertised in advance and writers who are interested send in their unpublished work between 800-2000 words related to the topic at hand by the given deadline to then be judged and chosen by the committee (care to give it a shot?).

There’s an unpublished longlist and shortlist, whereby writers receive some feedback on their work. Finally around 5-7 stories get picked for the night in question.

The event takes place at The Phoenix@37 Cavendish Square, conveniently located just 5 minutes from Oxford Circus. Doors open at 7pm and entry is £5, where you get stamped on your wrist. The evening starts more or less at 7.30pm.

The theme for my night was “Life & Limb” and contained 6 works in total spread over about two hours with a 15 minutes interval in between (with a book quiz and a chance to win one of three books! This time, three short story collections including a Granta edition on travel).

Surprisingly many stories involved falling. Maybe this is the typical risk situation people imagine? But the diversity in which the theme was treated was impressive, starting off with a rather comical punchy story, followed by two emotionally deeper stories of which the second was a very literally artistic piece. In the second half again we had a mix, finishing off with an extremely energetic story funnily treating the theme of sex.

Maybe it’s just my ignorance? But I was utterly surprised at the range of emotions and moods the actors displayed, giving the stories real life just by reading them out. I was initially disappointed, since I somehow thought it would involve actual acting out but really in the end the readings were nothing short of totally engrossing. It was just as much about the writing as the acting.

Anyone would have at least found one story to their liking and would have still found utmost respect for the creativity put on display here in all works by writers and actors alike.

So, unless you’ve got other plans, mark your calendar for the second Tuesday of the month and give it at least once a try!