Thursday, July 19, 2007

Getting Started

I very much enjoyed Lydia's post about how she got started as a writer and thought I'd respond. I did try to leave a comment over there, but it somehow disappeared into the ether. And anyway I'd rather like to run with the ball!

I can't remember a time when I didn't want to write. At school I had this great running rivalry with my best friend Helen to see which of us could write the best composition for English classes. I ignored all other homework completely to put aside time to write because my poem or story had to be the best. We both wrote well above and beyond the call of duty, pages and pages where one or two would have sufficed. Helen always got a slightly higher grade though (and is now a published poet).

I still have my English exercise books (below) filled with my scribblings. My writing was frequently melodramatic and wonderfully florid! And always full of spelling errors. (Mild dyslexia?) It's pretty embarrassing to read them now.

I also started a diary in 1969 and kept it right up to the time I got married in 1990. (Too much honest writing left lying around probably wasn't a very good idea ... particularly as a diary is always a space for a good sound off! Keeping an online password protected journal was a substitute later on.)

But I digress.

I got my first poems published at 13 in the Coventry Evening Telegraph and my first boyfriend, a gardener called Francis, was one of my fans ... although on the two occasions we actually met up for a date, I was so much taller than him that I walked in the gutter while he walked on the pavement!

Although I'd always told myself one day I'd love to write. I didn't start writing seriously until I was in my 40's. I guess that's a good point at which to evaluate your life since it hits you that the sand is slipping through the hour glass (speeding up, even) and if you don't do the things you want to do now, you're probably never gonna.

But there was always the fear - would I measure up or end up disappointing myself in an area that meant so much to me? My favourite writers like Annie Proulx wagged their fingers at me saying "You'll never measure up." Spoilsports!

I also didn't know how to "get into" writing.

So when I saw an ad for a correspondence course with The Open College for the Arts, I decided to give it a go. I found the materials they sent very useful, and the tutor I was assigned to gave me excellent feedback. But I didn't finish the course because:

First of all, I lost my nerve several units in when there was a big jump from simple exercises involving description to suddenly writing a complete short story. (How the hell do I think up a plot, I thought, in the days before I realised that plots can just happen onto paper if you let them.) Looking back, I think the course was aimed at more experienced writers.

Secondly, because this was in the days before the internet had really taken off (and OCA was a particularly slow adopter!), each assignment had to be mailed to the UK (with an international reply coupon inside it for the postage), and then there was a long wait for it to come back to me. My tutor felt so far away!

Thirdly, only my tutor saw my assignment and (afraid to show my efforts to those close to me)
I had no chance to see how other readers reacted to it. I felt so lonely!

Much more helpful to me was a book I found in a bookshop in London: Writing for Self-Discovery: A Personal Guide to Creative Writing by Myra Schneider and John Killick which is a fantastic collection of exercises for exploring the material from your own life and experience. (The book appears to be currently out of print, but you can buy it from Abebooks for as little as US$1.)

I went crazy, filling notebook after notebook with recollection and thoughts and fiction and dreams. I never knew I had so much inside that wanted to break free.

There were many other useful books, and I should say more about these, but this one was my catalyst, my turning point.

I signed up with Writers Village which offers a whole range of short courses for one very reasonable joining fee and found friends and support. The course material is online, and the work posted to a bulletin board and feedback given by your coursemates rather than a tutor. The atmosphere was supportive and friendly, I made some writing buddies across the world (Most of the participants are from the US.) and the first two short stories I had published grew from assignments I posted there.

I also did a creative writing course organised by author Chuah Guat Eng at Silverfish. This was the first time I'd written with others and my - what a heady experience it turned out to be - with moments of real magic when we read back our pieces. Much much better than scribbling away lonely and alone!

But the teacher/trainer in me said ... hey ho, I want to encourage others to write and think I can do this better ... and that's why and how my own course for beginners was born. (And it sounds as if Lydia is thinking along these lines too ... good for her!)

I've just finished one run of it at the British Council and hope that the next will be in November, when I finish the project I'm currently involved with and have had a chance to rediscover my Mat Salleh roots in the UK for a few weeks.

There are lots of threads here I might pick up on another day.

But like Lydia I'd love to know, what got YOU writing?


lil ms d said...

i minored in creative writing to get out of business school when i was an undergrad :D

Obiter Dictum said...

Now that is an a interesting post Sharon.

I met a guy quite sometime back. Wanted to pick my brain on writing and style etc.

I told him I would give him a few hours a week if he came back with a couple of thousand words essay on why he wants to write.

Somehow that question becoames the hardest to answer. Not how, not style but why?

bibliobibuli said...

my why is that i can't help it

and ... what was the quote "a writer is a reader moved to emulation"

ms d - do you think you would have written eventually, even without the course? btw today's star column is very good indeed and i think you ask a v. important question about the kids who get lost in the education system

Chet said...

>> The book appears to be currently out of print, but you can buy it from Abebooks for as little as US$1.

But how much for shipping?

bibliobibuli said...

you can check on the website and choose the shipping method. rates also depend on where the bookseller is. but i don't think you really need me to tell you this as the info is on the page itself ... so what are you trying to say?

anyway, it's definitely a lot cheaper than buying even new books here even with postage added, and for a book that you cannot buy locally at all (even if in print the bookshops here don't have a distributor - i've checked) it's a snip

Chet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chet said...

Sorry, was lazy to go and check.

bibliobibuli said...

oh... okay ...

but it shouldn't be too much anyway. i by a lot of hard to get books this way and have always been happy with the service.

Chet said...

I use

nel said...

Why I write? To discover a new person in me. I would contradict with him all the time. One fine day I decided to allow him to have his say as well. Finally we shook hand and got along just fine, and it really started from a guy who spell "horse" as "house", or was it "house" as "horse". Whatever! Just have to love him for it for who I am today. Just creating concious words, even when I am not writing them down. They are just there and everywhere somehow ... :)

bibliobibuli said...

chet - alibris has copies too plenty plenty. i should bookmark this site as well.

nel - that's a fine reason ...

Alex Tang said...

I discovered that I have something to say and I believe that something is worth saying (or writing about). I promise myself that I will stop writing when I have nothing more to say.

amir said...

Porn. Porn got me writing.

bibliobibuli said...

tut tut tut! bad boy

Giant Sotong said...

I have urges to write, but it's more creative exercises in wordsmithing than anything serious (like Jamie O's Naked Chef days). I've been told I'm good, but I don't know where it should be applied.

Lately an established writer harasses me every now and then to do something serious with my itchy pen/keyboard. Methinks she is annoyed with me constantly griping about my job 8-)

Nuri said...

Nice entry: mind if I link to it on my blog, later?

bibliobibuli said...

nuri - sure ... no need to even ask as i'm always delighted to be linked!

Sham said...

I started to write when I first learnt to pen the letter 'A'. Okay, okay I shall quite being 'loyar buruk'. It's due to a Ms. Nair, my English teacher who made us all keep journals that we had to hand up at the end of every week with at least six entries - poems, essays etc.
Although the bulk of the writing I do is scientific, I am blessed to have been surrounded by people I am close to who write creatively - and I learn along the way.

lil ms d said...

hi sharon

me again. i think i have always written. i kept diaries, journals, scrapbooks but i never thought i'd become a writer! i was quite set on a corporate career. but you know how life is... when the muse appeared, i followed. it's been a great ride. no regrets.

i suppose i write because i enjoy it. it makes me happy. :)

elviza said...

Dearest Sharon,

This posting is informative and encouraging. Thank you very much.

Writing remains as a dream for me because of fear. Fear of I don't know what!

May be I should give a creative writing course a go. And yes, it really is lonely to be writing alone.

Good weekend Sharon. Take care

Lydia Teh said...

Sharon, I just recovered your comments from spam. Don't know how they ended there. My own comments on my blog also had to be despammed before they appear. Thanks for the reply. Can't start anything new. No time la!

Yvonne Lee said...

Hi Sharon! You won't believe how I got started on writing.

I was a bored and desperate housewife. I got a kick from coining slogans for various contests, mainly for baby products. At the peak of my winning season, I got a whole lot of free baby diapers, milk powders, baby attires, hotel vouchers and sometimes, cash too!

From writing slogans, I slowly went on to writing articles for parenting mags and then newspapers.

I must say, writing is a joy and double joy when the work gets paid. Correct?

Madcap Machinist said...

writing is sexy :)

Eliza said...

I enjoyed your course, so am glad you got around to teaching.

Mohani said...

Like you, I used to furiously write for class assignments, giving each assignment 250%. I don't know exactly why I got into writing, but I remember that I really loved knowing that I had an audience (the teacher), and I tried very hard to impress. In my early teen years, writing gained another dimension for me: it was hard growing up, with so much insecurities , so I wrote down my thoughts/fears/dreams in countless journals. Writing was so much of my life then - I even wrote in airplanes and boats when I was on holidays. Writing, in my opinion, aside from photography, is such a great thing - the world is so harsh and we feel so small, but words make it all softer and sensual. And like madcap machinist (above commenter), I feel that reading is sexy. I hope to have a love affair with someone who has a love affair with words.

Mohani said...

correction: I feel that *writing is sexy.

bibliobibuli said...

eliza - many thanks

mohani - yes, 'tis! you keep going girl!