clhollandwriter: (Default)
The first full day of Swanwick means choosing a specialist course, one of the long courses that runs throughout the week.
On offer this year were Writing Popular Fiction, Fiction for Children and Young People, Scriptwriting, Non Fiction, and A Year in Poetry.

After the morning session I took myself off to the Book Room, and was glad to see the secondhand table was a hit this year. This is where delegates can donate books about writing they no longer want, and can take some of the offerings in return for a donation to the school. I picked up a copy of The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman, and from the delegates' books a copy of A Route Map to Novel Writing Success: How to Write a Novel Using the Waypoint Method by David Hough.

The short courses for the day were Short Stories, Forensics and CSI, My Voice Will Go With You (about finding your writer's voice) and The Inner Game. The latter was about silencing the monkey mind, the inner critic, and challenging the things it comes up with. Easier said than done, but I learned a useful technique which came in useful later in the week.

As always there was a Facebook and Twitter reception in the main lounge during the afternoon tea break. I intended to go, but got distracted on the way by coffee and chatting, and only remembered an hour later when I saw the pictures on Facebook.

There were three workshops on offer, on running a creative writers' group, journalism, and a briefing for Page to Stage for casting the performances that would take place later in the week. This is the slot I usually sacrifice for quiet time, so I headed back to my room to read before dinner.

Dinner started with a small group of us in the bar celebrating the sale of Val Penny's novel Hunter's Chase to Crooked Cat Books. Then dinner, and our evening speaker Sophie Hannah. She was hilarious and informative, with anecdotes on the inspiration behind her first book and how she came to be writing Poirot continuation novels. Unlike the previous speaker, she's a plotter and outlines her books to within an inch of their life. It works for her - she's nothing if not prolific - but it's not a method of writing I get on with.

After the speaker I took in the start of the poetry open mic, but didn't have the stamina to stick out the whole thing so headed off to bed.

clhollandwriter: (Default)
I am, once again, blogging a week late. I took my tablet and some good intentions, but didn't switch it on all week.

The trip up was mercifully uneventful, and we found ourselves outside Derby station waiting for the coach. And waiting. When it eventually arrived it turned out to have been designed for children, in rows of five tiny and uncomfortable seats. I wonder in hindsight if the coach company saw the booking and assumed school meant children, but they've provided coach services often enough in the past to know better.

We arrived late, but there was still enough time to unpack before the Chairman's Welcome. After that was dinner, and our first experience of the new buffet-style dining. I loved it. There was a choice of main (generally two meat, one fish, one veggie), two choices of carbohydrates (potato and rice or pasta) and two vegetable choices. Despite having to queue, everyone was served quickly which left us with plenty of free time before the speaker. This was something that often came up in conversation during the week - how much extra time we found ourselves with, because of that one simple change. It also meant there was a choice of desserts, which usually alternated between multiple cakes, or a choice of cold desserts (including fruit), and one hot option. The down side of this was I ate more puddings than at previous Swanwicks, the up side that several of these were fruit rather than cake.

After dinner was the evening speaker, crime writer Stephen Booth, who was excellent. I don't read a lot of crime (although I'm starting to) but it's always nice to hear other writers' processes - and he's most definitely a pantser. I went along to the book signing and picked up a copy of Dancing with the Virgins, the second in his Cooper and Fry series, which I then spent the rest of the week reading instead of writing.

As always, I headed to bed early as even uneventful travel is tiring and there was a busy week ahead.

clhollandwriter: (Default)

Further to last year's First Timer's Guide, here's a few more hints and tips to make the week easier for even seasoned Swanwickers. Because let's face it, we all forget this stuff.

1. Bring any writing-related books you no longer need - You can donate them to the school for sale in the Book Room, to raise funds for the school. Bringing them with you automatically frees up the space in your luggage and on your bookshelves for all the books you'll buy at Swanwick.
2. The Hayes gift shop is generally open during the tea and coffee breaks on the programme - You may rarely catch it outside these hours, but generally the tea and coffee breaks are the time to visit. I mention it because I spoke to a Swanwick regular last year who, not realising the opening hours, kept missing it.
3. There is a games room - There's also a giant outdoor chess set in the Quad. It you find yourself with nothing to do (it could happen!), you could play a game.
4. All floors in Lakeside are accessible from ground level - It just depends on which floor you're on and where in the building. As a general rule: rooms on the ground floor are accessible from the far right entrance; rooms on the first floor are accessible from the middle entrance (for the Alan Booth Centre); and rooms on the second floor are accessible from the lefthand entrance (past the Main Conference Hall). Of course, if your room is on the opposite side of the building it may be quicker to take the stairs.
5. The Hayes has at least two bookcases of books for sale - For the price of a donation in the charity tin, you can help yourself. One is opposite the shop, the other in the Lakeside foyer.
6. If you leave dinner at the last minute, you won't have time to get to the loo before the speaker - Seriously, if you're likely to need the toilet in the next hour and a half, leave dinner early. The queues are pretty much what you'd expect from a convention of writers who've been drinking coffee all day and have just started on the wine.
7. Pack layers - Typically for British summers it may or may not be sunny/rainy/stormy/snowing. Plus the Main Conference Hall and some of the other teaching rooms are freezing in the morning, but quickly heat up once they get full of people. You will ultimately be more comfortable if your wear layers so you can take some clothes off without scandalising anyone.
8. The coffee in the bar is better than the coffee in the rooms - If you plan on heading back to your room to get some writing done, take the coffee with you. If you want to get decent coffee in the mornings, leave a little early.
9. If you don't like coffee there are about eight different types of tea - So there's no need to bring teabags with you unless you're particularly fussy. They're in the bar area by the coffee machines and include decaff options (the rooms only have regular). If you're more of a tea drinker, think about taking some tea bags back to your room.
10. The noticeboard in the Vinery is a good place to plan extracurricular events - Last year, we had matchmaking for people who wanted to go on excursions, and an impromptu class on mindfulness. You can also speak to the committee about making an announcement.

clhollandwriter: (marchin)
Day Seven is not really a day, as all we do before we leave is have breakfast and say goodbye. Then it's on the coach for those of us heading to the station. Once we're unloaded there's already a sense of separation, of normal life creeping back in, as everyone scatters to their individual platforms. I miss the days when those of us who had a longer wait for the train would gather in a coffee shop, chat (those of us not horribly hungover from the previous night's disco, anyway), and extend the week those few minutes more.

I had mixed feelings about leaving this year, part sadness it was over for another year and part relief that I got to go home. The last twelve months have been frantic - I've changed job, moved manager three times and team twice, had health problems that are likely to have a long-term impact, plus bought and moved into a house. During all of this I've barely had the time, let alone the energy, to write. While I spent most of the year longing for Swanwick week, when I got there I found I didn't have the ability to deal with homework, large groups of enthusiastic writer folks, or watching everyone eat cheesecake or fish and chips that I couldn't have. As a result I was tired, cranky, and snappish, and I apologise to anyone who found themselves on the receiving end.

The trip home was longer than usual due to the route but after a nap, ten hours sleep, and another nap the following afternoon, I felt a lot more refreshed. And it turns out my week wasn't wasted after all. Despite not writing, and not feeling like writing, I've still got the post-Swanwick motivational kick. I've got ideas for two projects and the desire to do my homework. This weekend, I'll dig out the notes from the Manifesting Your Goals course I took in 2014 and create a timeline. It appears some of that Swanwick magic rubbed off after all.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
As always, I approached Thursday in a state of semi-exhaustion. It doesn't seem to matter how much sleep I get - or don't get - I'm always tired by the end of Swanwick week.

In the final poetry class a handful of people read out their homework, and then we shared our devices for creating original poems. Mine was to cut up several poems you like, put the pieces in a jar, and pick out a few random pieces to use as a springboard. Obviously this is for inspiration and the lines themselves shouldn't appear in the poem.

The short courses on offer were about comedy sketches, family history, finding inspiration from song lyrics, and "How To Eat an Elephant" which was about breaking writing projects down into manageable chunks. I took the latter, since the thought of starting something new on top of everything else I've done this year is a little overwhelming.

Instead of a workshop session, Thursday sees the AGM. It was short but sweet this year, since we had exactly the same number of people running for the committee as there were positions and no two people running for the same one.

On the programme, the spot after the AGM is labelled "time for you" and I always use it for packing as it frees up the rest of the evening. As I headed back into the main building several people were setting up the dregs party - an opportunity to get rid of leftover food and drink delegates don't want to take home - on the lawn. It was a bit damp and chilly for me so I went to the bar.

There's no after dinner speaker in Thursday, instead there's a pantomime. This year it was "The Battle of Writer's Block" featuring BBC journalist Simon Hall as Trevor, a joke writer trying to write a novel and win Success while being plagued by the villain Doubt. There were the songs "500 Words" and last year's "Is This the Way to Summer School?" which were catchy enough to sing along to.

After the pantomime was the traditional farewell, and then it was off to the bar to wait for the disco to start.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
Wednesday saw us back on the courses, with poetry tutor Alison Chisholm dividing the room into groups based on poetry forms we'd never tackled before. I ended up in the terza rima group, which is a poem divided into three-line stanzas with an interlocking rhyme scheme. Our task was to discuss what theme might suit the form, and how we could adapt or develop it to make it our own - and then to write one for our homework. Unfortunately by Wednesday I'm usually running more on caffeine and sugar than actual brain power, so this seemed like a mammoth task and I opted to spend my time sleeping and socialising instead.

The short courses on offer were: endings and agents, plotting and strategem; cover design; and even more poetry. I'd decided early that this year was poetry year, but the session turned out to be a workshop and it was a bit late in the week for me to cope with on-the-spot writing (see above). I made a few notes and wrote down the exercises to add to my "do at home" pile with the homework from earlier in the week. In hindsight, I wish I'd taken the first part of Erin Kelly's course (on how to write endings) and the second ("strategem") part of Michael Jecks' course in which, among other things, he discussed ways of tackling writers' block.

The workshops were on writing about an unforgettable episode in your life, and also on hybrid authors. I took myself for a walk around the lake and then went to sit in the vinery for a bit.

The evening speaker was Irish storyteller and one-time Swanwicker Brendan Nolan. He spoke a little about how attending Swanwick - and one of first night speaker John Lamont's courses - changed his life, as it gave him the motivation to write his first book. He also told us stories, one about a traveller and a bar of gold, and another from Irish mythology about Aengus and Caer. I've never seen the hall so quiet!

After the speaker, it was time for the Page to Stage Performances prepared earlier in the week. In previous years this has run concurrently with other entertainments, however from last year it was changed to be the sole offering, so no one taking part felt like they were missing out.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
Traditionally Tuesday is the "day off", but this only means that there are no classes. Most don't rest however, as the morning is usually taken up with a speaker and a panel on a particular area of writing, and the afternoon with rehearsals for those taking part in Page to Stage. Alongside both runs the Procrastination Free Day, one session for those with laptops and one for those without, during which people are shut in a room to write to their own goals - only being let out when it's time for food. It feels all too much like a workshop to me, despite the shiny stickers being offered as bribes, so I steer clear. Maybe I'll give it a try when I have a project that coincides with the school.

This year's theme for the morning was crime, and was hosted by retired policeman (and then Swanwick Chairman) Michael O'Byrne, forensics expert Kate Bendelow, and journalist and crime writer Simon Hall. Each gave a short talk on a different aspect of crime fiction, including common mistakes made by writers, and why you needn't bother dusting a steering wheel for fingerprints. Michael gave a visual demonstration with replica weapons as to why you should think hard before having your killer shoot a rifle from a moving vehicle, and also why it's important to know where your shell casings are. The second session was a Q&A where the three were joint by Ian Martin, also a retired policeman, to answer any questions the audience could throw at them.

As I wasn't taking part in Page to Stage, I spent playing card games with a friend and relaxing.  I also went on the mini-excursion to the other side of the site to see the beginning of the escape tunnel.

If you read this blog in 2013 you might remember me posting these pictures:


The Hayes was once used as a prisoner of war camp, and there is a case of memorabilia in the bar area, including photographs of how the site looked then, and also the spoons used at the time - some of which were used to dig the tunnel. This year there was a short talk about the history, and then a trip to look at the tunnel itself. The camera on my phone doesn't really do justice to how steeply the tunnel descends, or how tight a squeeze it is.
 

It was back on the usual programme at 8:20pm, where the speaker was Michael Jecks, author of over 30 historical crime novels and also a tutor for the following day. There was also a general knowledge quiz, and the buskers night.Save
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
Day Three saw us discussing the mathematics of poetry in part two of the poetry specialist course - how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide to improve a poem. Our homework was to do just that, or do write a poem about one thing in the jargon of another.

The short courses were on song writing, non fiction, fantasy fiction, and "the trickier side of fiction" - viewpoint, flashbacks, and dialogue, among other things. I took the latter, and while I didn't learn anything new from the course it was a useful refresher. In fact, the course was so popular we realised partway through the second session that some latecomers had crept in and sat on the floor!

The workshops were an ideas generator session and one on flash fiction. Personally I don't get on very well with workshops - something about being told to sit and write for an hour rubs me up the wrong way, so once again I gave these a miss and spent some time relaxing instead.

The evening speaker was Kathryn Aalto, leader of the creative non-fiction specialist course, who was followed by the first of the week's discos and a retrospective of the first 25 years of Swanwick - the latter of which inspired a mini-excursion the following day.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
Day Two sees the start of the specialist courses that run all week. This year's subjects were creative non-fiction, journalism, short stories, character psychology, and poetry. I toyed with the idea of creative non-fiction, but opted for poetry as I've been doing more of that lately while creative non-fiction is completely new to me.

In the session we discussed ways of working on poems that aren't working (edit them shorter, and then longer again), and the tutor Alison Chisholm requested that for the last session we think of ways to come up with original poems. She also gave us homework - poems from the past, and five ways to look at them to start something new.

The short courses on offer were self publishing, a grammar refresher, picture books, and connecting with an audience. I took the latter, even though I was in two minds about signing up for the poetry open mic that evening. Tutor Joy France was a little frazzled, having arrived from a festival minutes before, but was an engaging and lively tutor. She discussed audience reaction, memorising works, and how you won't always know something works for performance until you try it. It made my mind up about the open mic, but when I went to sign up all the slots were taken. Maybe next year.

The workshops were on flash fiction or a briefing for Page to Stage, a theatrical event that takes place later in the week. Since I was planning on taking a specialist and short course every day I'd planned to take the workshop time to rest and/or nap since it's a busy week.

The evening speaker was James Runcie, author of the Grantchester Mysteries. He told anecdotes from his varied career, and gave writing advice, including: "Don't be cautious: write what you want." I should really listen to that.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
Last year I blogged the week as I went along; this year I'm back to posting the week after. I just couldn't find the spoons to fit it in during the week this year.

Day One is really only half a day, since the earliest we can arrive is 3:30pm. For most of us it feels full, since we've either been travelling or have been on site early to set up. This year the travelling took up more time than usual - for me because the route I'd been booked on was longer and with more changes, presumably to avoid the trouble spots where there are strikes and cancelled services. Others had to travel through the trouble spots, and a lot of travel updates were passed back and forth on Facebook.

For those of us who arrive in time, Swanwick starts with a cup of tea and meeting up with old friends. I usually take this time to unwind and unpack. Then it's off to the chairman's welcome, to find out such important housekeeping elements as the code to get in the accommodation block.

The evening speaker for Saturday was Swanwick regular John Lamont. He taught last year's specialist course on "Succeeding on Purpose", which I regret missing (and have asked on my feedback form to be run again!). John spoke about the adaptability of the human brain, and about visualisation and retraining the subconscious - both of which are important in learning good writing habits, or unlearning bad ones.

After the speaker the traditional Saturday evening entertainments are "What Are You Writing Now?" and an alternative fairy tales icebreaker. I spent a short time in the bar catching up with friends, and had an early night to sleep off the travel.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
It's a week until this year's Swanwick Writers' Summer School, so I thought I'd post up a beginner's guide for those attending for the first time. My first year I went in blind - they didn't have much of a web presence back then, and I didn't know anyone else going, so I probably made most of the mistakes on this list!

1. Pack light - This probably applies more if you're travelling by train than car, although space may be limited if you're car sharing. There is a book room at Swanwick, filled with books by the other attendees. There's also the information room that sometimes has freebies: I've picked up copies of Writers' Forum and Mslexia in past years, and there's often a pile of Writing Magazine issues, bookmarks, postcards, and small zines. I assume you'll want to take these home with you, so leave room in your luggage.
2. Take a sturdy Bag for Life - In case you fail at 1.
3. Take plenty of cash, and your chequebook - There aren't any card facilities at The Hayes, so if you're buying drinks or from the gift shop, you'll need to pay by cash. There is a card machine in the book room (it belongs to the school rather than the conference centre) but in case of failure it's best to have your chequebook along for when you've spent all your cash. Unless you're on a budget, in which case it's probably best if you don't bring your chequebook.
4. You don't have to go to all the classes - This is a difficult one, because having paid to Do All The Things if you're anything like me you'll probably try to. None of the classes require signing up in advance, so you're not robbing anyone of a place. If there's nothing on you fancy, go and write. Read some of those free magazines you picked up. Take a walk around the lake. No one will mind.
5. You don't have to complete the class if you don't want to - The specialist courses run for an hour a day over four days, and the short course over two one hour sessions in a single day. If you don't get on with the start of the course you don't have to finish it. While it's frowned upon to leave partway through a session (although people will walk out if it overruns and they have places to be), there's nothing to stop you bailing in the break. You can even turn up for the next session of a completely different class. I've done both of these.
6. Don't try to do everything - This is a separate issue to 4 as it takes in the whole programme. At Swanwick it's understood that some people are larks and some people are night owls, and the programme caters to both. The morning Lift Up You Hearts, Lift Up Your Pens, and lakeside meditation sessions all start at 8am. The various evening entertainments finish at around 11pm. If you try to do all of these, plus all the courses, you'll probably by exhausted by Tuesday. Pace yourself, and don't be afraid to take yourself off for a nap if there's nothing on you want to do.
7. When they say Tuesday's a day off, they're lying - Although there aren't any classes on the Tuesday, there will still be panels, rehearsals for the evening's theatrical productions, the procrastination-free day, and the full roster of evening events. Don't bank on taking it easy.
8. Don't feel you have to eat everything - The meals at Swanwick can best be described as hearty. Breakfast is a choice of cereal, fruit, pastries, a cooked breakfast combo, or all of the above. Lunch is usually a cooked main and a pudding, as is dinner. Sometimes there's also soup. There are also tea breaks with biscuits (am) or cake (pm). You will not go hungry, unless you're particularly fussy. In fact, some people I know manage the week on one meal a day.
9. Don't panic about not writing - This may sound counter-intuitive since it's a writing school, but between the classes, catching up with people between classes, lengthy meals, evening events, homework, and emergency napping, there may not be much time for writing. That's okay, as long as you haven't brought a deadline along. You'll still be thinking, talking, and breathing writing all week.
10. Pack early on Thursday - This is another that mostly applies if you're travelling by train, as the coach to the station leaves early. Unless you're a really early riser, you'll want to be packed before breakfast as there isn't time to do it between breakfast and departure. If you're travelling under your own power you have to be off site for 10am, so have a little more time. I tend to pack on Thursday afternoon, after the AGM and before the evening programme starts, partly because I'm feeling glum about it all being over, and partly because I don't want to be packing after the last night disco finishes at 11pm. It's not unheard off for people to stay up after this finishes too, to delay the inevitable.

If you bear these in mind, you might even get to Friday morning without feeling like you haven't slept for a week. I can't guarantee it, though.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
I usually post about Day 7, but there's not much to say beyond the usual: we had breakfast early, left on the coach, it was sad. The train journey home was mercifully uneventful which is more than can be said for some of the others travelling home.

So I thought this year I'd post about the things I didn't do, either because they're not my cup of tea or because there simply isn't enough time or caffeine to get through everything.

For the early birds, the day starts with Lift Up Your Pens, Lift Up Your Hearts, or a meditation session by the lake. The first is a session involving some sort of guided writing (prompts etc), or writing development. I tried this once in my first year and discovered that writing that early is not for me. I hated it, although I know others love it. Lift Up Your Hearts is a short session of non-denominational refection. Since it's run by a different person each session it can be anything from music and poetry readings to traditional hymns. I've never been - see above re early mornings. Meditation by the lake is exactly how it sounds, and although I'd be tempted to go it would mean bring a small amount of extra kit with me (comfy trousers and something to sit on) and since I travel by train I pack as lightly as possible.

On the days with a full set of courses there are sessions called Unwind your Mind, which take place after all the courses have finished. These are sessions with the aim of winding down after a long and busy day. Since these take place right after the workshop sessions I tend to forget they're on since the workshop sessions are usually when I have quiet time. I do wonder if I'd get through more of the sessions if I did this instead!

Page to Stage is the week's theatrical productions. Five minute scripts are submitted and chosen throughout the year, and on Tuesday the various writers, directors, and actors get together to rehearse ready for the performances on Wednesday evening.

There are also various activities going on during the evenings. It's impossible to go to them all, not least because some of them happen at the same time. Ones I missed this year include the traditional icebreakers (after a four hour train journey I'm ready for bed straight after the speaker), two quizzes, two discos, and the buskers night. Other years have included dancing, karaoke, and old-style singalongs. Of course people also set up their own impromptu sessions, as there's a games room and a giant outdoor chess set, as well as lots of outdoor space for yoga and/or just lounging around.

There's no way to do it all, and this year wasn't the first I've wished for a time-turner so I could do more. Maybe I'll figure it out in time for next year.
clhollandwriter: (Matter)
To me, Thursday feels subdued even at breakfast. It's the last day, and as courses finish up time to leave gets closer.

We started with the final session of the specialist courses. In Novel Writing, Simon Hall went over the importance of using all the senses, and also touched a little on subplots - something raised by Erin Kelly in the Psychological Thrillers course the day before.

The short course I chose was Plotting for Historical Fiction, with Michael Jecks. I didn't realise he writes historical crime fiction - I seemed to have accidentally ended up with a very crimey week. Although he was a good speaker, the course was marred by a rude audience member who felt the need to argue with him. Since I was already feeling short-tempered I decided not to ruin my mood - and the rest of the day - by going back to the second half. Instead I retired to my room to finish my Alex Gray novel and a bag of caramels. Time well spent, so I didn't feel I'd missed out.

There were no more courses, so I surfaced for afternoon tea and the AGM. It was a short affair this year, since the committee was standing unopposed and only one person was standing for the position that was becoming vacant. There were a few other bits and pieces to deal with, including setting up Friends of Swanwick which is an initiative to try and support the school the rest of the year, as well as support the Topwrite scheme and start a hardship fund. It's very much in its infancy, so there will be more information to come on how it will all work.

Everything has a deflated feel after the AGM, which is perhaps why it's traditional to party after. There's a short break before the Dregs Party, which is usually held on the lawn but was indoors this year due to the weather. A lot of delegates "dress for dinner" in suits and dresses, but since I had limited luggage space I was in my usual jeans and t-shirt.

After dinner we had a pantomime instead of a speaker - a performance of the "first draft" of Romeo and Juliet which was very funny and had the audience divided into Montagues and Capulets. Finally there was the last night disco, and as usual I stayed up later than I meant and went to bed knackered and sad it was all over.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
Wednesday is always a bit odd after the gear-shift of Tuesday. It's back on the courses, but it's also the last full day in terms of workshops and speakers.

In the third part of the Novel Writing course we went over the importance of knowing your theme, and of pinning down your period and setting. Tutor Simon Hall had already discussed the importance of hooks in the session on opening lines, but reiterated the importance of suspense throughout a novel in order to keep the reader's interest. He also pointed out the importance of imagination and of taking time for yourself, something I think most of us are guilty of not doing.

For the short course I picked Psychological Thrillers, taught by Erin Kelly, which occupy a unique niche between crime fiction, women's fiction, and literary fiction. I've read a couple of psychological thrillers and enjoyed them, but didn't realise that it's a genre largely written by women about women - although there's a notable exception in that the author of As I Go To Sleep is male.

Psychological thrillers have links to Gothic fiction, which particularly caught my interest. Setting is hugely important in both, and often the novel takes place in enclosed settings. Both are also "women in peril" stories. As Simon Hall did, Erin raised the importance of hooks - raising questions at the start that are eventually answered, and asking other questions as you go.

The evening speaker was Simon Brett, TV and radio producer and author of comedy crime novels. I'd been told he was excellent and he didn't disappoint. The evening entertainment was the Stage to Page performances, but I was tired so headed to my room to sit in bed with a book and a cuppa.
clhollandwriter: (block)
Tuesday is always the quiet day at Swanwick - no classes, although there are panels and an evening speaker. For once I took the whole day off. Other than a chat with a couple of people about poetry, and socialising, I didn't do much.

On offer to those feeling less lazy was an Interview with an Agent - although this had to be cancelled because the agent, Meg Davies, broke her wrist. In true Swanwick style they found a last minute replacement, although I doubt it was as strange as the year Katie Fforde got stuck in traffic and was replaced with a variety show.

There was also a Publishing Panel, for Q&A with a handful of small publishers, self-publishers, and hybrid authors. For the theatrically inclined we had the new tradition of the Page to Stage rehearsals, and for the masochists there was the Procrastination Free Day in which they were locked in a room with a notebook or laptop and made to write all day. It's amazing how stickers can motivate people.

I skipped the evening speaker as it seemed to be heavily marketing-skewed and very much not for me. After that was a quiz and the buskers evening, but I somehow managed to get to bed having not done anything on the programme - a true day off, for once!
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
On Monday I felt even worse about getting up than I had on Sunday, but I dragged myself to breakfast and the second part of the Novel Writing specialist course. In it Simon Hall discussed characterisation, and how you can say so much with a character's appearance and mannerisms before you even start to look beneath the surface. Then we did look beneath, at drivers and backstory, and the importance of "gritting the wheels" to give characters something to struggle against.

I skipped the first part of the short course and sat down to do some writing. It was at this point I discovered my keyboard wasn't working. Since I only got the thing three days before I was not impressed and spent the next couple of hours in a mood. However a friend turned out to have the exact same one as me (even down to the colour) and offered to lend it to me since she was doing her writing the old-fashioned way. She is at the top of my Christmas card list!

Since I planned to go to a workshop session in the afternoon, I moved my quiet time to the second part of the short course and spent a little while in bed eating cake and reading the book I bought on Saturday. Then I went to the hour-long workshop on fantasy where we discussed tropes and cliches and how to avoid them.

As I was feeling a bit grungy I skipped the evening speaker Della Galton, even though I know she's really good. After that it was the poetry open mic, which was interesting as always. It overran and no one seemed to mind although a few people slipped off for the fancy dress disco. Once again I got to bed very late.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
On Sunday I was awake early and not happy about it. There is no good reason to be awake at quarter to six in the morning, especially at the weekend.

The courses kicked off with the first part of the four-part specialist courses. The choices this year were Novel Writing, Scriptwriting, Writing for Children, Poetry, and Succeeding on Purpose. I did a lot of motivational courses last year, so decided to focus on writing this year. It was a choice between the novel and poetry courses, and I went for the novel as I'd done a lot of poetry courses in recent years.

The tutor was Simon Hall, author of the TV Detective novels who also works for the BBC. He started with the importance of voice, and then of an opening line that grabs. Ideally these two are linked and the opening line will also give an idea of the attitude and character as well as what the book's about.

For the short course I picked CSI: Investigative Techniques for Writers, a course about crime scene investigation by Kate Bendelow, a writer who's also a SOCO. It was a fascinating course, and she clearly loves her job. I don't write crime fiction, but was aiming to take a course to learn and this didn't disappoint.

As I did last year, I skipped the workshop session to catch up on sleep. It's very hard-going if you try to do everything.

The evening speaker was Mario Reading, author of historical fiction and metaphysical non-fiction. I'd been interested to see him since I have an interest in all things metaphysical, and afterwards picked up a book of his translations and interpretation of some of Nostradamus' prophecies. He discussed why he feels agents are a must, the disadvantages of being a bestseller, and why it's sometimes better to accept a smaller advance rather than fail to earn out a larger one.

After the speaker I gathered with some friends and we spent the rest of the evening playing Exploding Kittens.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
The plan this year was to blog as I went along, instead of doing it all the week after I got back. However it turns out there isn't that much time to blog unless you specifically stay up late/get up early. Especially if your brand new tablet keyboard doesn't work.

As usual Day 1 is arrival day. Everyone turns up in dribs and drabs. There didn't seem to be as many people at our usual meeting place this year, the coffee shop seemed rather empty, but that turned out to be because everyone else was already on the coach,

There were some trivial but welcome additions this year - mugs in the rooms rather than cups, and a bank of coffee machines that dispensed a variety or coffee and/or chocolate beverages. In a conference full of writers this was particularly popular.

On the Saturday it all really kicks off with an evening speaker. This year it was Scottish crime writer Alex Gray. She spoke so engagingly about her works and journey to becoming a novelist (and I think she may have a bit of an author crush on her character Solly Brightman) that I rushed off to buy the first in her series and get it signed. She told us how she was rejected by a publisher because although they liked the book they "already had too many Scottish writers" - which I think says a lot about what's wrong with the publishing industry these days. She also told an anecdote about the importance of querying. The publisher who ended up taking on her first novel originally lost it, and she only found out by querying.

Afterwards was the traditional icebreaker social events, but after a day of travel I was tired and had an early night.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
While not strictly abut writing, I'm counting this as a writing post as limiting beliefs affect it in the same way they do everything else. Also because this was something that came up in the Manifesting Your Goals course I blogged about a couple of weeks ago.

Limiting beliefs are exactly what they sound like - beliefs a person has that limit what they can and do achieve. The course tutor said that this is often linked to the idea that we shouldn't have what we want. This is only my opinion, but I'd guess it's probably worse in women and also when what you want goes against the "norm" of cultural values - writing rather than a high-powered career, for example.

The beliefs tell you why you shouldn't do something. No good at writing? Why bother? You'll never succeed? Why bother? Don't have time to write? Well I guess there's no point in starting, then. The problem is, when these beliefs take hold it's like a radio playing quietly in the background. They get stuck in your head like an earworm, which only reinforces them and undermines both confidence and motivation.

The tutor gave a handy and really simple exercise to help combat them. Take a piece of paper and divide it into two vertically. In the first column, write your limiting belief; in the second, write its opposite and evidence for it. Writing them down makes them real and easier to pin down, and also makes the opposite real.

Limiting belief                        Opposite belief
I don't have time to write.        I do have time, I've spent four hours this weekend on Minecraft.
Writing is a waste of time.       Writing is not a waste of time. I enjoy it, and unlike Minecraft it sometimes pays.

If another limiting belief pops up in response to the answer, write that in the first column and write its answer in the second. If you keep going long enough, you might even drill down as far as the actual problem.

As far as I can tell, this is a similar idea as is taught in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, in that it's trying to break a destructive thought pattern. The last thing in my course notes is a reminder to celebrate successes. Although keeping outcomes in mind is important, so you know where you're going, "How will you know what you've achieved if you're always looking at the next thing?"
clhollandwriter: (Moogle)
This was the title of a course during last year's Swanwick Writers' Summer School, which was meant to help me kick-start some momentum. Of course what actually happened was I spent the summer looking after a boyfriend with two broken hands, and by the time he was out of plaster we hit the winter and my chain of colds. So I've dug my notes out to try and make a belated start on Getting Stuff Done.

The first part of the course dealt with how the unconscious mind works. There was a lot of cross-over with the Ways of Seeing course I was also taking, and I need to put the notes from that into action too since that's another thing that got put to one side. Basically, because of the way the brain filters things, we all see the world differently. We "delete" things that aren't important to what we're doing now, "distort" things to have meaning that isn't really there, and "generalise" about pretty much everything. This is all tied into the part of the brain called the reticular activating system, which is the bit that drives automatic functions. It's the reason you can perform an action you do every day (like taking the bus to work) and have little or no memory of it - most of it's done on auto-pilot, and the brain deletes the bits it doesn't need.

The problem is this makes it very easy to drop into a mindset where writing isn't and won't get done. Something else has replaced it in importance (Minecraft! The brain prefers instant to delayed gratification) and so the RAS is focussed on that instead. Opportunities just aren't spotted - that spare twenty minutes is time to spend on Candy Crush instead of time to write. You aren't writing so the brain deletes things that might be helpful to writing because it's not important right now. This leads to distorted thoughts like "I never sell any stories" - but this is because they're not being written and sent out, not because they're not any good - and generalisation: "Everyone else is more successful than me."

The way to deal with this is to have specific outsomes and goals in mind. This is so the brain knows where it's going and what it should be looking out for. The goal is what you're aiming for ("finish a novel") and the outcome what you get as a result ("buy a house with my whopping advance and royalties").

I know there's a lot of talk in writer circles at the moment about not having goals you can't control ("sell a novel") - because it's demoralising when you can't meet them. This is why having goals you can control as part of this is important - it's no good deciding on what you want but giving no thought to how you'll get there. The outcome is just to give the RAS something to aim at, so it spots the opportunities that will help you in that direction and keep you moving. Otherwise you could stall when you get to an outcome you meet unexpectedly, which is something I found when entering Writers of the Future. Although I wasn't thinking in these terms at the time, the goal was to write and submit to every quarter and the outcome was to win. The winning wasn't the point - my expectation was to build up an inventory of stories I could get rejected by WOTF and submit other places.

And then I won first time, and ended up with one story I couldn't send anywhere else, and I stalled.

On one hand, you could say that having a goal and outcome had the desired effect. On the other, I hadn't planned beyond the winning.

Part of the method for setting up your goals is to have a timeline. Where do you need to be in six, nine, twelve months? During the course I decided I needed to have completed my novel in progress by the end of 2015 so I could have it ready for the 2016 round of open submission periods (if there were any) and start looking into submitting it. However shortly after starting the work I realised I didn't actually want to be writing a novel . So I scribbled out all those plans, and tried to decide what I wanted to do instead.

And then stuff happened and here I am nine months later having got no further with anything. I still don't want to write a novel yet, but I've decided I do need to start small to avoid being overwhelmed. So the plan is, blog every Tuesday (twice a month about writing, once about jewellery, and once or twice about whatever), do the Flash Challenge every weekend except the one before late week. Now I've started on those, I'm going to go through the various drafts lying around and start finishing them, and also go through my reprints to see if I can get them out the door.

Small steps, but as I get the momentum going I'm confident I can add larger goals. I have novellas to finish, poetry to write. Maybe I'll get to a novel eventually, but for the moment I'm happy to start with baby steps.

August 2017

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