Tuesday, October 25, 2016

More thoughts on writing from our students

Last but not least!

As DIJANA NECOVSKI herself notes, slightly off brief, but she's gone where the muse took her.

5 things I’ve learned about myself in 2016 so far…

I’ve been living with myself for many years now, 34 in fact, so it should come as no surprise that I know myself pretty well. So it’s nice that there are days where I learn something new about myself. Here are just a few things I’ve discovered about myself this year.

1. I love mustard as a colour and as a condiment.
You can keep your tomato sauce, keep your horseradish and soy, and give me mustard any old day. It goes well with hot chips, hot dogs, steak, cheese and as a dip with corn chips. Don’t even get me started on how great it looks as a knitted jumper. Try it, it’ll change your world.

2. I actually enjoy living with my mother.
It’s rare to find a 34-year old who decides to live with their parents and actually enjoys it. When I was 25 I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and leave my folks behind. I went overseas, lived in the UK for a couple of years and then returned to never leave the nest again. Yes, I’ve travelled since, but there seems to be no point in leaving a house where I can be myself, know someone will find me if I’m on the floor choking, and I have someone who gives a shit whether I make it home each night. It’s rare to find someone that cares about you so much, so I’m going to take it, and enjoy it. Think of it as an older version of the Gilmore Girls.

3. I’m never going to believe I’m a good writer.
If I’ve learned one thing from studying as an adult is that it’s okay not be perfect. I’ve been studying writing for three years, or maybe it’s been four, and my confidence in my skills has not grown, not one bit. However, my confidence with being okay with not being perfect has improved dramatically. I’ve learned that I’d much prefer to share my writing , then to try to perfect a piece and never have it go anywhere, ever. What’s the point? So I’ve decided to live a little, and you should too. Write it all down, share it on your blog, with the local newspaper, whatever it is, just share it and go for it. What’s the worst that could happen?

4. Money does not make me happy, but reading funny stories and hanging with people I love does.
I’ve done my fair share of shopping, and don’t get me wrong, I love it. But not once have I ever bought something that has rocked my world enough to increase my level of happiness.* Yes, the purchase makes me feel good, almost as much as the chase, but at the end of the day, I’m going to keep my clams in the bank where they belong, for now, and spend more time having cups of tea with people I love, and sharing stories and opinions on the world around us. Now that is what I live for.
*Note: Books always make me feel better, but they’re not included as a shopping item as they are a necessity, like food.

5. Scary movies are scary!
I’m still waiting to recover from watching Twin Peaks as a young girl. The scene where the old man with the long hair is crouching in the corner of Laura Palmer’s room still gives me the heebie-jeebies, but that didn’t stop me from watching every other scary movie known to man. Now I’m a little older, I’m a little wiser. I still watch scary shows, poo my pants while watching them, then watch something a lot less scary like Brooklyn Nine-nine as a chaser, and then listen to a podcast while I’m sleeping. This ensures that I do not, under no circumstance have a nightmare that night. However, this has only proven to be effective 50% of the time.


Five points of a writer’s self-discovery.
Before I started my Diploma in Professional Editing and Writing, writing began as an insomniac’s idea. It was also an idea to help me through depression caused by an injury, which ruined my previous career. Now it’s opened up an entire world for me and given career options I never even considered.

1. Proofreading.
My biggest problem as a writer was proofreading my own work. The task is all about perception and it pays to have a second or even a third pair of eyes at your disposal. Let’s face it, reading your work in your head can be useless and sometimes reading aloud doesn’t cut it at times either.

2. Writing Buddies.
It’s an extension of proofreading, though it’s so much more. I’ve read many novels with two authors and I never quite understood this until I discovered the writing buddy system. What starts with two authors befriending and proofing each other’s work can become an amazing workshopping experience, with two heads creating something neither could alone.

3. Workshopping.
Buddy writing is a binary workshopping effort, though engaging in workshopping with an entire class can be an amazing process beneficial to many writers. It delivers an insight one may never obtain with solo writing efforts, and how I became aware of how much tighter my writing needed to be.

4. Tight Writing.
Tight writing is something I’ve never been able to execute well until now. In workshopping sessions and in the incredibly diverse themes explored in assignments I have started to train myself in tightening up those words. During these assignment adventures, I’ve discovered a dormant love for research projects.

5. Technical and Research Writing.
I very rarely dabbled in technical writing and research, though now they’ve become something I’m very passionate about. Before I started looking on job search websites, did I know how high the demand for technical writers of many specialities was? Research, project, procedure, operations, and human resource training all fall under the technical writing banner.
* * *

Thanks to all the students who gave me permission to post their listicles. Like any writing assignment, you might start with a set topic but of course each writer's own experiences, world view and creative ideas make for a different response!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

More from Professional Writing students ...


Five lessons learnt, from a writing student
(Because it’s not as easy as some might think)

1. It’s like a love-hate relationship – I’ll write something, and think, ‘Wow, this is awesome, I’m going to be the next Tolkien!’ And then a few days later I’ll have a critical re-read and think, ‘Wow, I should most definitely never show anything I write to anyone, ever.’ Then, after a few days of self-loathing, I’ll get excited and think, ‘If I can see the holes in this work, then I know how to make it better. And if there’s a possibility to make it better, isn’t that exciting?’ Then the whole process will start again.

2. Re-dream the dream – I read this in a how to write book and at first I thought, ‘This is B.S.’ Now, after three drafts of my novel-in-progress, I’ve realised this is one of truest things about writing. If I’m not willing to rework something until it works, if I’m not willing to cut out chunks of work, whole chapters or that sentence I think everyone will marvel over, then I’m not going to write to the best of my ability, and my stubbornness may see that my dream never becomes a reality. If something isn’t actually working, it has to go, no matter how much I love it.

3. I’m my best and worst critic – As a writer, I have to be critical of my work. Thinking that the sun shines out of my butt isn’t going to win me any fans or favours. Being critical helps me to be realistic about what’s working and what isn’t. But being too critical can kill all my creativity and send me into self-imposed creative exile. Finding the balance when it comes to critiquing my writing is difficult, but essential.

4. Everyone is in the same boat – everyone feels self-conscious about their writing, everyone is terrified to show their work to others. We’re all not sure if we can do this writing thing.

5. It’s more than a full-time job – I’m not sure how much time other people spend studying for their respective uni courses, but I’ve found that writing is definitely a twenty-four-seven job. Steven King says that a writer should dedicate four to six hours per day to reading and writing. When I first read that, I was gobsmacked. But he’s right; like lawyers and doctors, you’re always on call, and the hours of studying you put in are going to show later on.

Five things I wish I knew before I started my writing course

1. That there was going to be so much writing
It sounds silly. “They actually want you to actually write and produce new stuff all the time?” You have a few short stories up your sleeve but after the end of the first semester the well of ideas becomes dry and the failure to produce new and well thought out fiction and non-fiction becomes real. 

2. That you would have to read so much
“Read a lot and read broadly” each teacher will tell you at the start of the semester. And that’s not to mention the giant readers they make you slug around to each class and set books to read. Where do you have time to read your own favourites?

3. Workshop, workshop, workshop
Apart from writing your own stuff and reading your own books, you have to read your class members work and write on their work. Give constructive feedback (even if you don’t like it, or you can’t find anything to say).

4. And then you would have to write again
Second semester, you start fresh! Over the break you have worked on some chapters on the novel that you will immediately publish at the end of the course. But amongst the workload and workshopping and research assignment; where on earth do you have the inspiration and fuel to write something new? Looks like you will have to wait to the next holidays.

5. You can get a perfect mark and you will still hate it
Nothing that you ever write will be good enough. Don’t worry though; this feeling won’t leave once you finish the course.

Five things nobody told you would happen after completing a writing course.

1. You’ll become that annoying person that corrects everyone
I hope you’re ready to embrace being #foreveralone because all your friends are going say ‘bye Felicia’ when you start dissecting their sentence structure and correcting their every word. Apparently no one likes that, so resist the urge to let them know your right and they are wrong.

2. You’ll never be able to enjoy a novel again
Being a writer means always being on and therefore hard to enjoy a book when all you can see are its mistakes. I have yet to find a good way to turn it off so try to use it to your advantage, and try not to question why you can’t get published but this shit can.

3. Teenage ‘nobody understands me’ doesn’t count as poetry
I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t write my fair share of bad (read terrible) poetry, but you really don’t realise how bad it is until you complete a course or class dedicated to only poetry. Did you know there are several forms of poetry? Me neither. There are rules too. I have to say, it has become less fun, but I find I’m happier with the end result.

4. You’ll find yourself yelling at strangers
On outings you may meet new people, you may engage in small talk and they may ask you what you do and you will say writer – in some variation; Novelist, Journalist, freelance writer, whatever. They may be in an entirely different field and say something like: ‘I think I have a book in me’. I urge you not to go with your instinct and blast them. Remain calm and entertain their delusions, hopefully you’ll never have to speak to them again. This will happen to you multiple times before you begin to lie about your career. 

5. Look forward to unemployment
When I decided to switch from perusing a fine arts course to a writing course because there is no money in being an artist, I wish someone had told me there was also the same amount of no-money in writing. You’ll need to be thrifty and frugal when it comes to making a career out of writing. Expect to have multiple jobs.

(My note: Don't worry, Kristina, with the skills you have learned, you'll be a better employment prospect in just about any job you apply for. Hey, you know what a verb tense is! And you can write clear, readable sentences. That puts you ahead of most people in my experience.)

Saturday, October 08, 2016

More thoughts on writing and writing courses from VU's Professional Writing students

Continuing with their listicles...


5 Things I’ve Learnt About Writing From My Writing Course

1. I’m not as #flawless as I thought I was
When I applied to the course, I thought I was a fully competent writer with little to learn. I was seeking validation and a piece of paper that proved that I was—more or less—the greatest writer who ever lived.
Did I expect one of my tutors to discreetly take me out into the hallway to inform me that someone of my skill level had no place in the course and that I should probably get in touch with Penguin right away? Well, I may have thought it once or twice. Of course, if you didn’t see a headline that went something like, ‘Melbourne Writing Megastar Found in Footscray Writing Course’ then you probably know it didn’t happen.

2. The ‘basics’ are actually not-so-basic after all
Before the course, when anyone asked about my writing, I always said that one of my main goals was to burst onto the writing scene with wildly abstract pieces of writing that broke all the rules and challenged society's notions of writing was. And I mean, that still sounds nice and cool and stuff, but I quickly found that there were more ‘basics’ than I had initially thought, and that even some of the most successful writers in the world aren’t even necessarily masters of them.

3. There’s a lot more to ‘verbs’ than meets the eye
In my first semester, one of my favourite things to tell people who asked how my course was going was to tell them that we had spent over a month strictly learning about verbs and watch their eyes widen in horror. It’s safe to say those ‘doing words’ did my head in—and they still do, especially since there are still words out there that only ‘act like verbs sometimes’ and nobody seems to be doing anything about them and their confusing, unhelpful existence.

4. Turns out, I had never actually been properly taught grammar
See above.

5. I may not be ‘fully competent’ but I am capable
Though I haven’t been whisked away to a lab so they can study my powerful, intrinsic writing abilities, I’ve learnt that I’m capable and that there is no writing task that is too impossibly big or difficult, as long as I tackle it head-on.



Or, crossing the i's and dotting the t's...and the g's...p's and q's because there's five things I've learnt from studying this wonderful writing course - and they go like this.

It's not easy...
I dropped, pretty quickly, any pre-conceived ideas I may have had about the learning being black and white, right or wrong. And I learnt to ignore the persistent voice in my head chanting to me that it'll get easier the more I learn and the better I get. If anything, the writing's harder, and with knowledge comes responsibility. Sometimes, responsibility sucks!

The nuts and bolts need constant oiling...
Structure, plot, narrative, characterisation, show don't tell, tighten, research, punctuation, spelling, editing and more. The theory...it's the tool of creativity. And then there's that word 're-draft' and the back-breaking process that accompanies it, which this course has intimately acquainted me with.

I've learnt a lot...
And been encouraged to explore my ideas, my values and my morals through my writing. To be brave and creative and challenge myself. To take risks. The emotional side of writing has been my constant companion.

Believe in myself...
Because yes, belief in oneself can be taught. Even though it's about our genetic predisposition, it can be tapped into, nurtured and encouraged. As a mature-aged student, building self-confidence has been hard. I've had to dig deep and project back into my past to conjure up new futures.

The bits you don't sign on for...
Friendship, mentorship, companionship, like-minded passions and interests. Authors. Writers. Sublime literature - and books. Lots of books! The writing process has been and continues to be bitter-sweet, and the learning satisfying and exciting.


Five things I’ve learnt from my writing course

1. You’ll leave the course knowing how to write solid first chapters. You’re practically an expert in this and should get paid to write first chapters for everyone.

2. Workshopping isn’t as fun as you think it’s going to be.
At first it’s cool and at times nerve-racking to have your work read by others for the first time. But trust me, there is such a thing as too much workshopping. You’ll spend more time doing this then actual writing and you will quickly begin to loath the whole idea.

3. Blogs are near impossible to keep up with. Your time will be taken up by the assignments and work load that any writing you want to do outside is near impossible to keep up with.

4. You’ll begin to question whether your teachers communicate about assignment dates.
Two 2000 word assignments due on the same day should be illegal.

5. In the end, your teachers are the best resource you have
They’ve all worked and struggled through the writing industry and you’d be a fool not to take their advice on anything.

Thanks, students! More coming soon ...