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September 28, 2013 / ldejong4

Lesson 1: Get naked, get shitty, get sloppy

My father asked me the other day what my goal in life was and I told him that it was to write a novel and then for that novel to become a movie. He laughed and asked what my plan B was and I said it was to keep trying. I don’t know how serious he intended the question to be and I have no idea how honest my answer really was but I thought it was witty all the same.

The truth is I want to write a novel and I am going to. This day next year I will be a young Irish female author sitting in bookshops signing copies of my debut novel. Don’t laugh! I have a story in mind. You don’t know what trauma I have been through, the people I have met, the places I’ve been and the stories I’ve heard throughout my life. I have unique material and my novel is going to be out of this world. It will blow your mind. It will take your soul to a whole other meaning of the word ‘existence’. Then, a few months after publication I will receive calls from Hollywood and a year or two after I will be walking down the red carpet of the movie my novel is based on. I have my outfit planned already don’t you know.

There’s just one thing… aside from it being a great story, it needs to be a piece of literary genius. Irish literature is associated with the likes of Joyce, Wilde, Beckett, Swift, Kavanagh and many others you see honoured in places like Trinity College and along the canals and parks of Dublin. I want to live up to this standard, with a bit of modern spice of course. Years from now there will be a me-shaped statue in a bodycon dress with a thong hanging out on Harcourt Street.

Herein lies my issue. Unfortunately at school we were discouraged from engaging in creative writing in English class. It was apparently harder to get points in, which meant we risked not obtaining our desired course at third level education. Instead, many pupils would learn their essays off by heart. Strategic yes, however detrimental if your question didn’t appear up on the paper. Thankfully I was semi decent at twisting answers around and from what I remember, the Irish Leaving Cert was quite easy to predict.

Since school I have learned many interesting ways to write: academic papers, formal and informal emails, PowerPoint presentations at work and even WhatsApp messages using only emoticons to non speakers of English. So here I am, 25, with a best selling novel ready in my head but without a tap of creative writing experience. I sit down to write and I have no idea whether I should write it in the first person or the third person and what difference that even makes. Well thank God for Dublin Culture Night…

Last week I attended a free creative writing workshop at the Big Smoke Writing Factory in Dublin 2 and I learned much more in that hour than I have in any English class preparing for the Leaving Cert. I enjoyed it so much that I immediately signed up for the Beginning to Write Fiction course. It is a six week course and classes are one evening a week for two hours with a tea and biscuit break halfway through. I thought it could therefore be nice to blog about my experience every week since my blog is about my writing and the process of learning how to.

Lesson one: be sloppy with your writing, it doesn’t have to be amazing. Every good writer writes a really shitty first draft

And there you have it, circled in red and transcribed directly from my notebook. It goes against my own expectations of myself – great! In this first class we learn to strip naked with our writing using a technique called Free Writing. Here you are timed for approximately ten minutes and literally put pen to paper. You do not edit, you do not think, you do no judge, criticise, rationalise; you just write and allow for a free stream of consciousness pour from your pen. The less sense it makes and the sloppier it looks, the better. We also learn about What If scenarios, where you take a normal situation of an imaginary character and create a story. For example, there is a man on a bus going to work – what if he decides not to go to work and continue on the bus journey? Where does he go? Who does he go with etc? Or what if the bus is the wrong bus or if the man falls into a deep sleep.

Well, I won’t be posting my shitty first drafts or my deep irrational thoughts here but hopefully I will start to post more new and improved pieces of fiction. Let’s see how this goes and I hope you enjoy following my journey. Who knows if I will ever write a novel? I will just embrace this class for what it is, taking one step at a time with one short story at a time. The long distance runner should know how to run before signing up for the marathon. I write because I love it and I write so I have something extra to read.

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