Tuesday, 28 February 2017

How writing can be a therapeutic tool

"Writing does not protect us from tragedy, but it does give us a way of working through problems and perhaps expressing them differently in fiction."

It's a truism that writers draw upon personal experience - and that of others - when they create fiction. This is not only part of the writer's desire to bring authenticity to their characters, plots and dialogue, it's also therapeutic. The same can be said for non-fiction, although I venture to suggest that fiction gives us greater leeway because we are not constrained by details yet remain informed by the emotional content.

When my brother died, back in 2005, alongside trampling around the fields and talking to myself I found it really helpful to put pen to paper. I tried poetry and keeping a journal (well, commandeering the journal I already kept sporadically). Nothing profound emerged, but it was a tacit signal to my subconscious that I intended to keep a channel open and if there was anything unsaid or repressed, well it had a place to go to.

Some time later, when I felt better able to organise those ideas and feelings so that I could examine them (yes, of course Lieutenant Data was one of my favourite Star Trek TNG characters!), I approached a newspaper with a proposal to write  a personal piece about grief and losing a sibling. Although the newspaper said yes I still had to work hard - arguably, the hardest ever, to let the words tell the truth while accommodating the editor's suggestions and requirements. Having found a way to express that loss and reflect upon it, my grief was accessible to readers.

I'm not advocating bearing your soul unless you feel drawn to it because the process is not without consequences. Other people will read what you have written, and what you have not written, and possibly draw conclusions you never intended. In the final analysis though, I think that sort of writing encourages others to share their shadows and gives us both - writer and reader - permission to feel.

I mention all this because I haven't blogged much this month, due to a family situation. I'm still making notes about it that may yet find expression in a piece of writing. For now though, it's a way of remembering and coming to terms with that tricky customer we call life.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Writing can be a funny old business

Workshops are a great way to learn, to find out what you already know, and to approach a familiar subject with fresh eyes. This still holds true when you're the person delivering the event.

Back in 2012 I ran a one-day workshop on Comedy Writing for Beginners for the Moon Hut Writers' Group in Falmouth. It was great fun and a little experimental (as some of the feedback attested!).

We covered:
- What makes a joke
- Types of joke
- Some techniques for creating jokes
- Writing topical jokes and cartoon captions
- What to do with your jokes once you've written written them

More recently, I was invited to run a two-hour slot for West Cornwall Café Writers’ Group, so I created a cut-down version of the follow-up workshop, Comedy Writing in Fiction. (For fans of Raymond Chandler, I described it as The Little Sister of the original.)

This time, with a different audience we covered (in a whistle-stop tour):
- What makes a joke, types of joke and some techniques for creating jokes

followed by

- Reasons for making jokes
- Finding humour in formal situations and personal anecdotes
- Scapegoating
- Why and when to use comedy in fiction
- Where comedy may come from in your fiction

The most interesting times for me were when someone asked a question I wasn't expecting, or talked about a personal experience or observation. It was nice too to have someone there who has read three of my novels from the Spy Chaser series.

Things I realised on the day:

1. We all of us know more than we think we do.

2. Our writing reflects who we are, our life experiences and our attitudes. They go hand in hand, and the one cannot expand and develop without the other.

3. Writers' concerns do not change, however long we've been writing and wherever we see ourselves on the ladder. Some of those fundamental questions are (and remain): 
- Am I doing this right and is there a way to do it better?
- How do I make my writing more authentic?
- What steps can I take to make my work more publishable?
- How can I express myself more fully as a writer?

A huge thank you to Barbara, Brigitte, Elaine, Ginny, Jak, Kate and Linda for your hospitality and enthusiasm on the day.  Sharing the event was a wonderful perk for sticking with a teenager's dreams of writing a book one day, from all those years ago!