The Creative Writing Coursebook – 2

Continuing with my study of this book, I truly identified with Paul Magrs account in Clearing Some Space of what holds writers back: “What tends to hold people up in the first place is their determination that the first line they write down be brilliant”. Of course that describes me perfectly. It pains me to read some of my free writing. It is so full of rubbish that I feel like giving up. And so far in this course book I am told that writing is hard, it takes practice, and often yields little… So why bother?

I wrote stories as a child and teenager and loved English classes in school. However, it took me a few decades to realize that even though it is difficult, I like writing, I do write, and I want to write well. Is that why I bother?

Magrs does give me hope though when he says that “You have to remember that no one can write exactly as you do. You are the unique product of a unique life history.” And then goes on to tell us that ghostwritten books are bland and have no soul. There is that glimmer, shimmering in the background that leads me to believe that one day I might write something that I am proud of. Until that moment, I will keep writing and practicing and bearing my soul.

In the Introduction to Training the eye, Julia Bell builds on our lesson in description and writing down what we see. I find when I am thinking about free writing and writing in my notebook in the morning when I awake that my mind is a blank about what I can write. But here in this introduction are many examples of how I could be describing anything from my journey to work, my home, my relationships, and my life. I need to improve my vocabulary. She says buy a dictionary and a Thesaurus but I often use the ones online.

That also brings me to another point: paper or computer? I find it easier to type that write. I have typed since I was in my twenties – 30 odd years ago. It is second nature to me. Writing though I find uncomfortable. I researched on line and cannot find a definitive answer. The only answer I got was do what feels right to you… so I type…


When writing descriptions, I often stop the action, describe something, and then return to the action which basically halts the story. These exercises in describing objects and scenes were difficult to begin with but I found myself getting into the swing of it with quite wild descriptions, e.g., the nave of York Minster as “Ladies clothed in cream silks and golden taffeta lifting up their arms in praise and ecstasy”.

It can feel like exhausting slog though to get a few miserly jewels and I am never that confident about the value of the treasure I have mined. But I keep toiling because there is hope (and I have also been told by others) that this is practice and I will improve.

I found describing movement and the scene more enjoyable that individual objects. It was hard to describe a single object, but when I started to revise my free writing, there were parts that I found acceptable such as “rectangular shape of blackness the size of a thin cigar box” to describe my mobile phone. I was describing something without actually naming it. Though when I read my descriptions to my husband, he did not know what they were… oh well!


My first example of freewriting. It is awfully frustrating. I want to fling the notebook across the room. I feel like I am writing nonsense. Out of the nonsense are also nonsensical words – words that mean nothing – words I have made up in the moment of madness as I stumble across the page.

A day later as I read back over my first exercise in freewriting, I realize there might be some jewels here among the insanity of my mind in words. There may be something of worth.

At times when I write, I find that I have a lot of dialogue and action. I also fit in description here and there – sometimes this works and it is in among the action and sometimes it does not. However, I do not seem to have the paragraphs where authors (or rather their characters) deliberate. Where they reflect on the world or their lives or anything else that helps the reader to build up an image in their minds of what this imaginary world is made of.

And there on the page, among this freewriting insanity, I see the possible beginnings of these deliberations. Maybe there is something to this freewriting all along – something else apart from nonsense, practice, limbering up, etc. Maybe the glint of creation.

The Creative Writing Coursebook – 1

I started reading this book. I completed the first four articles. So far it seems these articles are explaining the exercises that we are following in class.

It helped me to read in Clearing your Throat by Julia Bell that daily writing in my notebook and free writing will help me to improve. I liked how she likened it to exercise and limbering up: that made sense to me and helps me through the times when my notebooks seems to be full of rubbish. This is just the beginning.

Françoise Sagan also mentions limbering up in Getting into the Groove. There was so much in her article: ideas, exercises, inspiration… that I will certainly use her article as a reference point going forward when I need ideas for my notebook. I have tabbed her article for this use.

I enjoyed Paul Magrs’ Notebooks because he wrote a story about his childhood and his love of writing. I was easily drawn into his world. The fact that he had loads of notebooks helped me because I now do not worry about “what do I do when I get to the end of my notebook!” Buy myself a new one! The descriptions of his characters (especially his teacher) where instructive. I tend to step back when writing descriptions and do not always find the right way to place the description where they will not halt the action. And he mentions the details that we have to notice and how hard work it is. I find that my tendency is to skim over the surface. I am afraid to write to deep. It can get scary down there.

Nicole Ward Jouve mentions this too in On Keeping a Diary. She says in item seven that dreams can help find the essence of a character. Delving into my dreams and putting on paper what I dream seems scary but it provided fodder for the start of a poem, so it seems we do put a lot of ourselves into our writing. If I fear that, or at least allow that fear to stop me delving, I will not develop as a writer. It takes courage to write.


As I was freewriting today, I wrote “roaring fire.” As I wrote it I knew it was a cliche and was thinking (or trying not to think but write – it being a freewriting session) what would you write instead of “roaring?” Growling? Howling? None of those seem to describe a fire. Warm? Rolling? Orangy?

Anyway, while searching online for cliches, I came upon this link and thought how useful. How to avoid cliches by using this list. So here it is for future reference.

Dream – Sam up the Cliff – Draft

I wrote this dream in my notebook and used it for the first exercise in part one of Writing Skills.

I am at the bottom of a cliff – Sam has been playing on the beach – he is with someone (I don’t recall – possibly his cousin Sarah). They are both young – maybe eight or nine.

Suddenly they run towards me and up up up the cliff until I can only see Sam’s white shirt. Fear envelopes me as I watch them disappear. Will they make it? Will they fall? And then a body falls towards me. But it is not Sam.

It is someone else. They seem wrapped in some ropes and time slows down. They twirl like trapeze artists. Another figure swoops down and scoops up the first one and they dissolve.

York City – Draft

This is the preliminary draft of the second exercise in Part 1 of Project Work.

York City sounds vast

The name York so grand

Bringing forth thoughts of

Civil War and The Minster

A grand church of enormous stature

But when we approached

This beautiful city

Through the West Gate

We were immediately

Taken back in time

To tiny streets

Overhanging buildings and

Cobbled streets

Walking streets of shops

Is delightful

A Christmas shop

Full of decorations of various sizes and shapes

Some with glitter and some with paint

Next door

Warm pungent smells of bacon from the

Pork belly emporium

Pavements so tiny

We are pushed onto

The road

To continue our journey

Around the corner

A teashop to beat all teashops

Betty’s tearoom

That will not take reservations

So we are forced to queue

In the rain

The patter of water on our heads

Does not diminish our excitement

As we wait

Watching customers finish

Scones dripping with clotted messes of cream and

Jam so black it screams of fruit

High windows stand like

Cathedral glass with

Stained roses and leaf swirls

Falling from atop

Shades of yellow and green

Bring elegance to the scene

Waiters with crisp white aprons

Plunging to the floor

Bring elegant

Piles of finger sandwiches

Petite cakes and

Fruity scones

Sparkly champagne

Tickles the taste buds

Followed by tea

So light but full

Of flavor in cups of

Delicate china and

Painted with buds

York is Fine

We were instructed to look through our notebooks where we write up our daily thoughts, feelings, descriptions, ideas, and whatnots. I feel like I have bled (to take a notion from Hemingway) into that notebook this week. I have had so much doubt and distraction; feeling like I am completely inadequate. And as I have painfully completed my notebook, its has taken me to the edge of my despair. I am not exaggerating here but as the week has continued, the despair has merged with joy and the doubt with confidence (or at least an element of courage).

So the weekend arrives and my second exercise is to take these notes and find something that resonates. I chose a passage I wrote about my recent visit to York and my enjoyment of the city. I found it exciting and fun to take the words from my notebook and transform them into some resemblance of a poem. To begin with it had rhythm in places. I started to play with this rhythm and fill up some lines with nonsense words just to fill the space. Then I tried to find words that fit in those spaces to make sense. I used the internet to find words that rhymed and the Thesaurus to find synonyms.

It was fun. I enjoy writing poetry. There seems to be quite a lot of freedom in it.

My Writing Diary

Instructions on contents of a writing diary as published by OCA Writing Skills course:

Your writing diary Your writing diary is an integral part of this and every other OCA course. If you’re new to OCA courses, read your Creative Writing Student Guide for further information. Use your writing diary to record your progress through the course. Your writing diary should contain:

• your preliminary drafts

• your thoughts on the work you produce for each exercise

• your ideas and observations as you work through the course

• your reflections on the reading you do and any research you carry out

• your tutor’s reports on assignments and your reactions to these.

I am scared

There I said it. I am also a perfectionist which does not help my fear levels or my writing. I do not want any of this to get in the way of developing.

Having said that, I found today I was feeling excited. I was writing my first exercise and at first I thought what do they want – what are they saying and my anxiety levels rose. But I wrote what was explained and looked at what I had written. I read it aloud. There was a little part that had rhythm, but the beginning did not work. I changed it a little and suddenly realized I had been drawn into the world of writing without really having to put any effort in whatsoever. And I was thrilled. Not thrilled by the quality of my work – thrilled by participating in this craft – thrilled because I love using words to express.