The end is in sight
So this is it! For me, and my fellow students on Oxford’s Creative Writing MSt course, the final deadline approaches. There are just a few more weeks and it will all be over. This is the time for final revisions, last minute panics and desperate questions about whether comb or spiral bindings are better. The best thing about this time is the opportunity to read other people’s work as it reaches completion (or, at least, a temporary closure). We have shared work throughout the course, both in formal seminars and informal workshops, and so it is joyous to see these pieces reaching their final stages. I am convinced that I am surrounded by some of the poets, novelists and script writers who will dominate the bookshelves, screens and platforms of the future. How exciting to have seen the inception and development of some of this work.
The worst thing? The apprehension of hand-in? The stress of juggling a ‘Sod’s Law’ deadline? (September is also a major deadline for my day job and all the preparation work on the new Children and Families Act. Two years work on this have coincided almost exactly with the two years of the MSt.) No, the worst thing is the ending of a stimulating, creative and exciting two years of study. It isn’t really the end, of course. Friendships for life have been made, and there will be many opportunities for workshopping and sharing work in the future. But it is the end of a particular framework for these opportunities and that is sad.
On the other hand, there is part of me that wants to reach the deadlines so that I can get on with finishing this novel – and then starting the next one! This is for life, not just for a two year creative writing degree. In the meantime, though, that deadline calls.
See you on the other side!
Piecing shapes together
Sometimes, as a writer, it’s really helpful to look to other art forms for inspiration. I love reading about artists’ process. There is always something to learn or enjoy. I was recently inspired by the Matisse exhibition at Tate Modern, particularly seeing film and photographs of the artist pinning all his shapes up on the wall so that he could play around with them, constantly swapping them over, until he had settled on the final position for each work.
I know some writers use software to play around with structure and try out different possible orderings, but I am still fond of crawling around the floor with pieces of card and sheets of handwritten paper. I like to be able to see it all in one go – even if that means standing up on a chair to survey the collage of scraps spread out on the rug.
Messing them all up again
Last week, I visited the Great Electronic Art Show at Woking’s Lightbox studio. Playing around with shapes and light was another inspiration. Coming back to my desk this week, I realised that the order of the first few chapters of my novel was not quite right and I have just given them a shake up. The joy – and the frustration – of the drafting process is that nothing needs to be fixed. Sometimes, it is worth messing up all the pieces and laying them out again.
But then there comes a point when you have to decide that this is the final order, the fixed shape. The thing is done.
I won’t be taking a summer holiday this year as August is an extremely busy month for those of us involved in the implementation of the new Children and Families Act which comes into force at the beginning of September. It is also the run up to the final hand-in date of work for my Creative Writing Masters degree. If there is such a thing as an anti-holiday, that is what I am having.
In order to have a mental holiday, therefore, the only thing I can do is to take the occasional break from working on the novel to write something completely new. Even better than a holiday is the rush of starting on a new project – perhaps a short story, or a new poem. There is nothing like the excitement of breaking new ground or playing around with some fresh ideas. Even better, when I go back to the novel, the break away sometimes creates fresh insights or new ways of tackling problems.
So you can keep your tropical paradises, your beaches, your fabulous holidays – I am hardly jealous at all! – as long as I can have a few illicit weekends with a new project or two.