A Happy New Writing Year

A New Year and I’m already beset with worries about resolutions. Should I join the gym – again? Shall I buy that watch that will monitor my fitness? Do I really need a new laptop? How many words should I aim for each day?

I know some people hate them but I actually find New Year Resolutions helpful and motivating. I even make a point of checking up on them every four months – as I do for my writing students so they can’t escape them either!

But for New Year Resolutions to work they must be:

REALISTIC and MEASURABLE.

If you are working full-time and have a family to look after, then writing the next block-buster in twelve months probably isn’t going to work. But outlining the plot, doing character profiles and writing six chapters probably will.

If you like writing stories for your local writing group, then perhaps you could push yourself a little further in 2018 and decide that you will enter six outside competitions this year.

If you feel you’ve reached an impasse with your writing (some people call that Writer’s Block), perhaps changing genre might help. Set yourself the target of researching a new genre, such as steampunk or playwriting or writing for children, and writing at least one piece in that new genre.

Me? I’m going to tell you my resolutions for 2018 so I can’t hide!

  • To self-publishthe-complete-guide-to-self-publishing the novel I started writing for my Masters back in 2013. It’s done the rounds of the agents so now I’m going to take charge.
  • To finish the sequel to that novel. I’m more than half way there and I love directing the fortunes of my characters.
  • To submit at least one other piece of writing in a different genre, such as a radio or stage play.

Reading schemes

I heard a really inspiring feature on Radio Four’s Today programme just after Christmas about prisoners who are teaching fellow inmates to read. Volunteers from The Shannon Trust go in to guide the teachers once a month while the teachers and pupils meet up to five times a week, for 20 minutes each time.

Apparently half of our prison population of 85,000 have a reading age of 11 or under. When poet and writer Ben Okri was guest editor on the Today programme, he went into HMS Isis in Thamesmead South East London and spoke to some of the prisoners involved in the scheme.
These are some of their comments:

  • I was always hanging around with the wrong crowd.
  • I lost a lot of confidence in not reading so I didn’t speak much.
  • I felt inadequate, out-of-place.
  • I can write Christmas cards now.
  • I can read the Harry Potter books.
  • When you can read you can push yourself much further.
  • I can get a job and feed my family.

One prisoner learned so he could read to his children. “I have been given what I needed to encourage me to stay out of trouble when I get outside,” he said. “I completed a book challenge and as my prize I asked for two books to read to my children. I hope that me learning will encourage my children to do it too.”

It’s not only prisoners who didn’t learn to read when they were at school. I’ve spoken to a number of adults who grew up in rural parts of Ireland. When it came to harvest-time, they were needed to help out on the farm – no argument! But their education suffered and it’s only years later, perhaps when they get on well in a job or their children want help with homework, that they suddenly find they need the skills of reading and writing.

This is the link to the Ben Okri feature: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05s5pl3

And to the Shannon Trust at work in Swansea prison:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-39179454

Asking for help

One of the best experiences I’ve had was volunteering at a Basic Skills centre in Harlington, West London, some 18 years ago now. We helped people of all ages, cultures, jobs and backgrounds, all of whom had had the courage to say “I can’t read. Can you help me?” To see the progress they made, little by little, week by week, was truly inspiring and humbling.

That experience got me into teaching and I haven’t stopped since! I’ve taught computer skills to “silver surfers” and it’s such a joy to see the smiles on their faces when they learn to put photos into their Word documents or do a calculation in Excel! Then I got a job teaching Creative Writing and I just love it! I am so amazed at the ideas people come up with. Having been a journalist and editor, I feel I can help with the basics: grammar, spelling, punctuation and sentence construction, plus story structure, plotting, characterisation and motivation. But all my students leave me way behind with their creative ideas!

Family_Reading_Hour

I’ve recently put my name forward to be a “listener” at a local junior school – going in once a week to listen to individual read out loud. I’m so looking forward to the new term in 2018 and to meeting the youngsters who may well be our writers of the future.

You can find out more about this scheme here: http://www.schoolreaders.org

Competitions/Opportunities

Prompts

  1. It’s 50 years since Hey Jude was released by the Beatles. 50 years? Really? Yes!! If you admit to being old enough, what do you remember about the Beatles? Do you have a tale to tell? If you’re younger, write about your favourite band.fuse_marketing_group_encyclopaedia_britannica_death
  2. It’s 250 years since the first publication of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Where have all the door-to-door salesmen gone? Tell the story of one such person.
  3. Do some research and find out what other anniversaries are being celebrated this year. Choose one and write either an article or a short story based on your choice.
  4. First-footing is a ritual in Scotland at New Year. But what if your first visitor is
    (a) a complete stranger or (b) an alien?
  5. Set 2 minutes on a timer and write down as many words as you can think of that describe what 2018 might bring for you.
  6. You remember someone at the office party giving you a scratch card as a Secret Santa Christmas present. But now you can’t find it. What happens?
  7. Write a story (you determine the length or time) that starts:
    “Wait!” The voice echoed across the deserted car park. Damn! Why hadn’t she/he left with the others?
  8. I understand that, in the United States, January is designated as
    THANK YOU MONTH. Write a thank you letter to someone you wished you’d thanked but didn’t, for whatever reason.
  9. Write for five minutes non-stop about WINTER.
  10. Write as Father Christmas looking ahead to 2018.

Hints and tips

I’ve come across a few tips from authors that I thought might be worth passing on for the New Year.

  • Zadie Smith recommends: work on a computer that is disconnected from the Internet.
  • Jonathan Franzen reckons: Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
  • Helen Simpson says: The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’ 
  • And James Patterson suggests: I’m always pretending that I’m sitting across from somebody. I’m telling them a story and I don’t want them to get up until it’s finished.

Happy Writing for 2018 and do let me know how you are getting on.

Linda x 

2 Comments on “A Happy New Writing Year

  1. Thank you, Carey. I love your resolutions – challenging and realistic. I look forward to following the progress of The Foot Racer. All the best for 2018.

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  2. Linda
    2018 – Adopting your suggestion for my proposed novel, The Foot Racer. Character profiles, plot outline, & writing 6 chapters. Also entering 4 short story comps. Modest stuff but realisable I think. Like the writing prompts too, particularly where the E.Britannica salesman has gone. Also Father Xmas looking forward to ’18, and the James Patterson hint – of telling a story to somebody opposite.

    Your idea of appraising the success of new year res’s by looking at the success or failure after a few months is also
    a good idea. Best wishes for writing success to you and all of us in 2018.
    Carey

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