Tag Archives: creative writing

NaNoWriMo To Go

NaNoWriMo Day 3I’m taking a stab at NaNoWriMo this year. Writing a novel in a month certainly sounds like a challenging task, especially as I’m perpetually busy.

One of the most common pieces of advice I’ve read is to take every possible moment to write. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is not just to drive aspiring authors insane, but to foster the habits of daily writing.

What tools can help an author on the go? Software like Scrivener is great if you’re sitting down at a desk, but it’s not as helpful when you’re on the go.

My challenges in time management mean that I need to be able to write anywhere, at a moments notice. Lugging around a laptop just isn’t going to cut it. Even carting around an iPad isn’t going to give me the flexibility I need.

I’ve already started writing my novel on the iPhone. It’s a compact device I always have with me, and it’s possible to type one-handed. I’m impressed with the autocorrect behavior, even when typing one-handed.

While typing speed may not be as fast as with a full-sized keyboard, the main point is that you can write when you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. You can fill in those otherwise dead spaces, and actually write.

The recent advances in cloud computing allow the work to be saved online, which both provides backups as well as the ability to resume writing on a different device when the opportunity arises. For example, this post was composed on the iPhone to this point, where I switched to writing it on the iPad with an attached bluetooth keyboard. Before published my post, I did a final edit on the desktop in a browser.

If the primary block to writing is finding the time, consider using a mobile platform. A common saying in writing is “butt in chair, hands on keyboard”, but that doesn’t really serve the mobile writer very well. To fill in those smaller blocks of time throughout the day, I’ve found that I need a solution that doesn’t involve sitting in a particular spot.

As a tool, I’m using the Elements text editor on iOS, by Second Gear software, which has Dropbox support. It has a folder structure, which allows me to group files together, and separate the work by chapter, or as supplemental notes. Also important is the easy info button which provides the important word counts. Because it’s plain text being stored in Dropbox, it’s easy to do any later edits on the desktop.

Creative Writing Retrospective

Last term, I was enrolled in English 335 at the University of Waterloo. This course was a workshop based course on creative writing. This course had a great deal of potential, but only partially lived up to my expectations.

The course is composed of three main areas of creative writing: poetry, short fiction, and drama (called “collaborative performance” in the syllabus). While I was most interested in the short fiction component, I also greatly enjoyed the poetry unit. For each of the first two units, two new poems or short stories were written and workshopped. One of each was then chosen to be thoroughly revised, and justification provided for the revisions. The collaborative performance was written and edited in groups, and was presented in class on the last day.

Possibly the best part about the course was the license to write. I not only wanted to write, but I was compelled to do so. The poetry unit helped me to think more deeply about the fundamentals of language, while the fiction unit allowed me to concentrate on narrative.

In contrast, the drama unit provided me with little value. The collaborative work was interesting, but there was little focus placed on revision after the presentation. This unit also took considerable time which I would have rather spent writing more poetry or fiction. The performance aspect of the work was also uncomfortable. My group read our script, rather than memorizing it. I did not have the time to spend memorizing a script. This is a creative writing course, not a drama course. Maybe this part of the course was more meaningful to others in the class, but I felt it detracted from my experience.

There was very little academic content in the course, which is expected for a creative writing course. It is listed as a workshop course, not a lecture. There are other courses which focus on the short story, and others which focus on poetry from the academically critical perspective. This course focused on creating and revising effective writing.

The workshop portion of the course was valuable, but also frustrating at times. The class size was excessive. There were over twenty people enrolled in this section of the course. When workshopping as an entire class, critiques of everyone’s work meant taking two nights to cover everyone. For the second piece in the poetry and fiction units, we broke into smaller, more focused groups, reading five pieces instead of twenty. In general however, there was not enough time to effectively critique the writing. If the class was smaller, more time could be spent on each individual piece, or each student could write another piece.

In general, I found the critique process to be poorly defined. The majority of the time was spent discussing what people liked, and what people didn’t. A particular phrase was often pointed out as being cool. It was more rare to hear a critique which focused on elements such as pacing or plot construction. The instructor frequently brought up the need to focus on characterization. This is a fault I was guilty of, in at least one of my stories, which I later gutted and rewrote from scratch.

Another frustration was having my work reviewed last in both the poetry and fiction sections. I realize that someone always has to be last, but it’s no more fun in creative writing than it is in high school gym class.

The pacing of the course seemed excessively slow. Over twelve weeks, we wrote two poems, of which one was revised, and wrote two pieces of flash fiction, of which one was revised. Added to this was the writing, editing and performance of a collaborative drama. Five pieces of original writing, and two revisions. I was expecting more writing in the course, and ultimately found the level of workshop discussion unsatisfying, primarily due to the lack of time for individual reviews.

I think this course would benefit from a bit more structure in the critique process. What sort of things should be looked at during a critique, for example. A simple list of some of the basic elements of fiction, such as plot, characterization and effective dialogue would have improved some of the reviews. By the middle of the term, I was getting rather tired of hearing the phrase “I really enjoyed this story” prefacing a simplistic review.

The instructor also has a bias against genre fiction, although it was allowed in the course. This can be understandable, as it is much more difficult to assess work in a genre in which one has little experience. From my perspective, it’s much easier to write in the genre in which I read. Without knowing the conventions of a particular genre, it can be difficult to determine if a certain phrase or concept is typical of the genre. The instructor primarily reads literary fiction, I believe.

I’m not sure if I will enroll in the advanced creative writing course. I think I need to spend some more time to absorb the experience of the first course, before I come to a decision.