Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Mummies on the Bus go chatter chatter chatter.

Yes, they do indeed, and here's a big thank you to them for providing me with lots of material to write about.

I've been commuting on the bus for the last year and it's been a far more inspiring experience than sitting in my car oblivious to anything but what is on the road in front of me. I've taken to making secretive little notes in a tiny red book, whipping it out and plonking down a few words to remind me of what I'm seeing, or hearing (or smelling on a few occasions), as a way of collecting ideas and material.

It's embarrassing to do this on the bus. People look at me, puzzled. Some are wary. I try not to be too obvious about it but sometimes forget my manners and stare. I only write in my little book if there is an empty seat next to me and no curious eyes to read over my shoulder. That might not be good for my health.

But it's a terrific place to pull in impressions and incidents. One of the pieces I wrote for the creative writing course I'm on started with looking at a rabble of teenage schoolboys on the bus, all trying to impress each other and the girls, swaggering around as 'big men', saying 'fuck' at every opportunity, but at the same time making fart jokes. I thought about how much simpler it was in the past when you were either a kid, or an adult, with none of this messing about in the middle and that lead on to a story that looked at growing up to adult responsibilities, and losing them again as we age.

I'm still looking for a way to use: the man wearing one of those joke baseball caps with drinking straws leading from attached beer-can to mouth, but who oddly had no drink installed; the woman who got on and asked if the bus went to X, was told yes, nodded her thanks and got off again; the driver who looks at everyone presenting a £10 note as if he wants to stab them through the eyes; the homes I'd always assumed were tiny bungalows but now see, from my higher viewpoint, as the top floors of four-storey buildings perching at the peak of a steep hill (a cliff?) that falls away from the road.

But best of all are the conversations. Whether it's caused by the increase in mobiles, reality TV, or a break-down in old-fashioned mores (who cares), people on the bus definitely talk more than they used to. They discuss the most personal and private events with no sign of embarrassment. Privacy is fast becoming an outdated concept. For those of us who want to write, this is a fantastic thing.

I've listened to an elderly man behind talking about his piles and getting folk-remedy recommendations. Two elderly ladies loudly and gleefully running through the scandal of a niece, the next-door neighbour and a broken promise. A couple sat and calmly debated whether they should continue with their affair; after he got off the bus at his stop, she got on her phone to a friend to denounce him as a wanker but a wanker with a big one and that's why she puts up with him. Teenagers will talk about anything.

So many stories…so little time. If you are stuck for inspiration, a trip on your local bus could be just what you need.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Where am I? Where am I going?

A lot of us know we want to write.

What we often don't know is what we want to write, how we want to write it, where we'll find the time, why we want to write, whether we need any training, what else we need (lots of chocolate and a screaming deadline), how on earth we get someone to read what we've written...and on it goes.

Literature training has produced GETTING TO WHERE YOU WANT TO BE: A DIY guide to professional development planning (© literaturetraining, November 2007) to take writers at all stages of their career through a deceptively simple step-by-step analysis of their situation, which turns out to be highly revealing, and results in an action plan. Sounding a bit too much like work and management speak? Have a look before you judge it.

Sometimes we all just want to veer away from that blank paper or humming screen, run back to the kitchen, put the kettle on, eat another Hob-Nob and tell ourselves how silly we are in our ambitions. Others may have more confidence, but not have any guide to help them turn ambition into action, and action into results.

I think of the DIY guide from literaturetraining as a sat-nav because the whole process looks at where you are now (ambitions, skills, resources, experience, successes, problems and so on), where you want to be (Booker prize winner anyone?) and helps you work out how you can get there.

I sat down one afternoon to go through it and found it very much grounded in reality - there's even a section called 'Reality Check' - and it only took me a couple of hours. It covers so much that I can't imagine a writer it couldn't help. You review what time of day is best for you. You look at the attitudes of those around you. You look at what is helping or hindering you. You think about your reasons for writing. You look at how you spend your time. You think about what you need to do, what support you need, where you could find that support, and break down achieving your ambitions into small steps. You look at your priorities. This blog is the first result of my action plan, for example.

Literaturetraining (you can find a link at the bottom of this page) is a free resource and advice centre for writers so even if you don't like the sound of this guide, you should go and visit to see what else they have to help you.

Go on, give it a whirl. Get the download from the link above. Go spend a couple of hours on yourself and your development as a writer. Take my advice and don't skip any parts as you'll only regret it and have to go back to them. Take yourself seriously. You can still have your cup of tea and a HobNob.