from the archives: my experience on an arvon novel writing course (part 5)

Another suitcase in another hall.....

Another suitcase in another hall.....

This week I've been sharing the blog posts I wrote about my experience at an Arvon writing course, to mark seven years since the experience! Please see this post for background and parts 2 , 3 and 4 to catch up so far.

This post originally appeared on my blog Green Ink in April 2010, and has been slightly edited.

Friday 9th April 2010

The last full day on the Arvon course. Hard to believe, really. It's been amazing what writing something every day has done for me. It's reemphasised to me just how important it is, as any successful writer will tell you, to just show up every day and write. It doesn't matter what you write, or whether it's any good. You just have to do it. It sounds easy, doesn't it? But the truth is, it's hard. It's very, very hard. If it were easy, there would be no need for courses like this really. I don't know what my own reasons for avoidance have been - perhaps a whole host of psychological barriers it would take a textbook to explain, perhaps just pure laziness. Wanting to get out there and live life rather than just write about it, maybe.

This morning was our final class, with Morag, on plot. She showed us a photo she'd taken on holiday in New Zealand a few months ago. It was a sign in a shop window. We had to come up with a character, a set of circumstances and a things that gave them solace, grief and uncertainty. From this we were to develop a plot.

I don't think I stopped writing for the entire two hours. I was completely lost in it. Words, ideas, energy just flew out of me. Facts, history, real life timelines had no place. It was just up to me, so off I went.

Until that moment, I had forgotten how much fun writing is. I hadn't written this way since I was at school - well over ten years. Something was unlocked. My cheeks were pink and my eyes were bright. I felt energised, happy and excited about what I'd written. It's been ages since I've felt like that.

Went and had lunch, and then joined some of the girls on a little drive down to Loch Ness. Snapped photos of the vast, impressive Loch. You only have to look at it to know that it's bottomless.

Then we returned to Moniack and I went upstairs to work. I was still buzzing with the energy of what I'd written earlier. I loaded up The Memory of Us and stared at the last bit I'd written, feeling dull. My eyes hurt looking at it. I didn't want to try and write anything. The energy I had from earlier was bouncing off that impenetrable, invisible wall.

I was so very frustrated. I picked up my journal and reread the story I'd written by hand in my journal that morning. It was pretty good, I thought. It sparkled. It had wit and vivacity and a sense of fun - all things I want my writing to have. So I just thought I'd type it up, from the notes. Just to have my fingers moving, to be doing something instad of sitting there, stewing, feeling frustrated.

So I typed it up and enjoyed every minute of it. Tweaked a few things, but I typed away until I got to the natural point of conclusion and then sat back and surveyed the work I'd done. Two hours had just flown by.

Then I had to think about what I was going to read at the group gathering that evening. Everyone had been asked to read a small selection of their work - it could be anything we wished, anything we were particularly pleased with or attached to, anything we felt showcased us well as writers.

So I clicked my mouse over the still open Memory of Us document. Read through it. Well, skim read it really. All the words and thoughts blurred together. It really is the dullest thing on the face of the earth. Well, maybe I'm being too harsh. I noted a few random paragraphs where I thought "that's pretty good" or "I like that", but these were just lone paragraphs, unrelated, from different parts of the story. I had to read aloud for at least 5 minutes and I had maybe 60 seconds worth that I was happy with?!

Then it hit me. 127 pages. Over 40,000 words. And there wasn't any significant chunk of it I felt was worth reading aloud to people. I felt like I'd been whacked in the chest.

And then I looked at the story I'd just written. Granted, it was only a first draft and wasn't perfect, but I liked it! It had something! I liked Viv and Rose and Col. I wanted to know more about them. I wanted to know what happened at the Auckland Cup. I wanted to know what happened to that ten dollar note that Helen Clark used to pay for the brooch.

I wanted to read that story aloud. I felt that those couple of hours I'd spent on that story had revealed so much about what kind of writer I want to be.

And so I sat, as I let the enormity of the decision I was about to make sink in.

Yes, I'm terrible and will make you wait for the next bit. Ha ha!! :)