Thursday, 25 October 2018

Adventures in Creative Writing Part "I'vecompletelylostcount" - The holes I'm STILL falling into after a few weeks on a "Writing for Children" course - A ReadItTorial

Creative writing is pretty tough, right? Creative writing for children? Heck, it's the literary equivalent of this little fellah...

(Yeah, that'll be me in the cowboy hat and the unconvincing moustache).

The thing is, it's not really the course's fault. Through the two assignments we've had so far (writing a 'funny' story - brutally tough, then writing an adventure story in 500 words - even tougher still) a few things have become clear. I know you love these ReadItTorial list-marathons so here's ten things I can self-critically see are wrong with my writing.

1) I cannot do the '500 words' thing. 

Honestly, when anyone even breathes the phrase "500 words" I'm like this...

500 words? I've barely GOT GOING in 500 words. Particularly with the adventure story I ended up having to cheat things a bit, hacking out huge chunks of my scene setting, character building and world building to leave the slimmest of skeletons behind. Though I hate 'em, I can see the clear need for word counts. All the great advice about 'writing more' then trimming your work down really doesn't seem to work for me.

2) I suck at coming up with character names. 

Thankfully I haven't fallen down the Ian M. Banks hole of naming all my characters without the use of vowels, but still it's durned hard to come up with names that fit a particular story. I've written several things where I've even resorted to calling characters "Character A" or "Character B" simply because I've had no inspiration for names whatsoever. I liked J.K. Rowling's approach of 'grave robbing' - ie nicking character names from Greyfriars Cemetery but I don't tend to hang around graveyards that much.

3) If one idea gets 'stuck' in my head, I can never seem to get rid of it to move onto something else.

This happened with the "Adventure Story" assignment. I knew the idea I'd had was sucky, I knew that I should've just dropped the idea like a hot potato and moved on - but I kept coming back to the same damned thing, absolutely convinced that I could fix it or pep it up in some way. It's like having gum on your shoe and convincing yourself that you'll just make it to that park bench over there before it irritates you so much that you want to take your shoes off and hurl them across the road. Sometimes it's great to try and salvage a story. Other times you wish you could just fire that sucker into the heart of the nearest sun.

4) I'm far too easily led - or influenced by - other things...!

Back when I was a lot younger I remember co-writing a science fiction comedy with my brother. We called it "Space Wreckers" and it was great fun to write something together. We wrote reams, writing it all out long-form on bits of foolscap paper. 

Some years later I remember reading some back (which he'd kept) and thinking with new fresh (old man) eyes "My god, it was just Red Sodding Dwarf really, wasn't it!" - We'd spent a significant amount of time rewriting something that had already become massively popular, with it subconsciously feeding our own writing. Avoiding influences from elsewhere is extremely difficult, particularly when you're writing science fiction - and consuming a lot of science fiction too. 

5) I chronically suffer from "Everyone else is better than me" syndrome. 

Yep, just about every week I listen to other people's stories as part of the course - and I'm completely blown away by how talented these folk are. Everyone has their own reasons for attending the course, most seem to want to be published - quite a few are members of SCBWI and other organisations, but what strikes me is just how durned FRESH their stuff sounds to my ears.

In the scope of book blogging I'm well and truly used to seeing the same ideas over and over again, and I always try to inform my own writing by making sure it's as far distanced from other children's writing that I've been exposed to as possible. But dang, I'm totally in awe of my classmates who seem to be able to spin up stories with such ease. Genuine hat tip to them all.

6) I regularly break every single one of the rules I set myself when I started out trying to write for children.

I hate cliches. I hate defaults. I hate seeing the same themes cropping up again, and again, and again in children's books and writing - yet here I am a few weeks into the course, writing 'under pressure' (well, you try writing something new every single week for a few weeks, good luck with that) and I'm all over those defaults (the bumbling dad, the two dimensional futuristic dystopia), all over the same themes (Friends are great, generational gaps are insurmountable etc etc). Some of those may be brilliant subjects for children's writing but I can't help feeling a bit disappointed with myself that I'm falling into a great deal of 'lazy writing' this early on.

7) I'm absolutely convinced I can do this. Perhaps wrongly. 

Self-deprecation for fun and profit. Nah, honestly there's still this stupid belief that I can somehow produce something that will work, will catch an agent's eye, and perhaps will eventually make it into print. I have absolutely no basis for that belief other than the tiniest smidge of ability as a creative writer who has progressed from 'never being able to finish a story' to 'can finish a story but it'll need a ton of Mister Sheen to polish it before it can be submitted'.

8) I'm harshly self critical, but hate being critiqued!

Oh yars, that is so me. I'm quite fortunate that I live with the two most amazing women on the planet (my wife and daughter) and that they aren't exactly backwards in coming forwards with an opinion on anything. I know that if I get a tired shrug, a "s'ok, I spose", that this is the closest to critical gold as I'm ever going to get at home.

This is good though, having the two toughest critics to please means that when I take something out to my course every week, I should be ready prepared with a teflon skin for even the sharpest criticism, right?

Wrong. I just can't take it. I squirm inwardly when receiving even the most polite and constructive criticism of my work, it just breaks me - and yet it's the only way I'll learn to break the cycle of writing something junk that is junk and will end up in the junk pile, right?

9) I have absolutely no idea to write for particular age ranges. 

Again this is something I thought might be a lot easier than it actually is. Writing for a specific "Middle Grade" age group sounds like a doddle, right? But it's far too easy (for me at least) to assume that all middle graders or my prospective audience has the same level of understanding, same vocabulary skills and perhaps is as well-read as my own daughter.

Of course, that means that quite often my writing meanders between being "OK" for lower / middle grade but then will veer off at a tangent into YA / Adult territory.

It's so subjective, there are obvious things that you can avoid and need to avoid to hit the MG range (no swearing, no vices, and absolutely no woo-hooing!) but I have the same problem trying to fit age categories to books we review, so it's no real surprise that I can't actually write to a given age range either.

10) I'm too stupid to give up now.

I don't know what it is. It's idiocy, perhaps there's a tiny bit of egotistical vanity in there, perhaps there's still the raging fist-shaking belief that "IF THEY CAN GET THAT PEESACRAP PUBLISHED THEN SURELY I CAN WRITE SOMETHING THAT WILL GET PUBLISHED TOO" (hey, I'm not the only writer who's ever fessed up to that particular character trait) but I feel like I'm actually too dumb to give up. I haven't been writing in earnest for that long, some writers (depressingly) love sharing those anecdotes about how many rejections, how many years they spent shilling their book before an agent took it on and now they're highly respected authors who can command up to 5 free sandwiches and an inordinate amount of free hot beverages at book events (getting paid? That's another thing entirely).

I am going to maintain my idiocy for a while longer. I said this course would be make or break, and I'm exactly half way through it. Will it all somehow click? I may write another readitorial in 5 weeks time to let you know..!