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!
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:
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:
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!
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
I’ve come across a few tips from authors that I thought might be worth passing on for the New Year.
Happy Writing for 2018 and do let me know how you are getting on.