Monday, 16 May 2016

Nostalgia Isn't What It Used To Be

Thank heavens for some glorious weather! I’ve been making the most of it, sitting in the garden (but only after cutting the grass, I hasten to add), judging the Travel and Memoir categories of the National Association of Writers Groups competitions.

Last year, when I was judging the travel writing category, I posted about pieces I called WIDOMHs, or What I Did On My Holidays. These were obviously lovely holidays for the writers concerned, but a travel piece should inspire others to follow in the writer’s footsteps, showing them what they can do on their holidays.

I’ve found something similar with the Memoir category. I call these pieces MLIFHW, although that doesn’t trip off the tongue quite as easily as WIDOMHs did. For those of you who can’t work it out, MLIFHW stands for My Life In Fifteen Hundred Words.

In some ways I admire the writers who’ve attempted to encapsulate their entire life (so far!) in 1500 words. That is some achievement. However, as a reader (and a judge) I don’t feel that I’m really getting to know them. They’re painting an outline of a lifetime, whereas I’m looking for the intricate details of just one moment of their life. 

Memoirs are important. We need to record our lives because social history is vital. But we don’t record EVERY detail in our diaries or journals. We capture the highlights of the day, our thoughts, and our feelings.

I’ve read some amazing entries so far, and they all have something in common. They’re recounting a brief moment in time. An afternoon at a tea party. A bombing raid during the war. Moving house and saying goodbye to a much-loved childhood home. 

And there’s a story to them too. Part of growing up, or simply growing older, is about understanding and becoming wiser: learning what makes us who we are. And the successful entries are the ones that tell a story to reveal why the writer now does, say, or think, what they do. Memoir moments are those that define us.

If something happens to you today, which makes you stop and think about your actions, or encourages you change your ways, then write about it. Record your sights, smells, sounds, tastes (if appropriate) and feelings. Explain your thoughts. Not because you might one day want to enter a memoir competition (although this will help), but because as writers we need to records these feelings, emotions and experiences. What perfect material it makes for a short story, or perhaps even the basis for an article (nostalgia slots exist in many magazines).

And if you do want to enter a memoir competition, think about specific incidents. Don’t write about your school days. Instead, write about that one afternoon when you came face to face with the school bully. Don’t write about your career in nursing: write about your first day as a qualified nurse … or your last.

Don’t try to cram your entire life into 1500 words. After all, hopefully, we’re all living lives that are worthy of far larger word counts.

Good luck.


Monday, 2 May 2016

New Chapters

I’ve just marked my 4,578th Writers Bureau assignment. It was also my last. I’ve decided, after nearly 12 years, that it’s time for me to move on. 

I feel guilty for those of my students who’ve yet to complete their assignments with me, but there’s a band of fantastic tutors ready to take over, so I know they’re in good hands. And I’ve made many good friends over the years: staff, fellow tutors and students.

But life is not about standing still, and the same goes for our writing. I have some ideas and projects I want to develop, and to do them justice I need to devote more of my time to them. As I’ve commented on this blog several times, we all get given the same 24 hours in a day, but it’s up to us how we make the most effective use of them.

I think it does writers good to step back for a moment and go through all of our projects. Sometimes a new idea intrigues us so much it takes over, and we find ourselves devoting a lot of time to it. In the meantime, some of our other plans end up languishing at the bottom of in-trays and in half-forgotten notebooks, waiting to be rediscovered.

Stepping back, and taking time to reacquaint ourselves with those projects, can reawaken forgotten dreams. I’m currently liaising with a publisher about a non-fiction book idea I’ve had for a long time. It’s exciting, because they’re keen on the idea too. It’ll mean more time in the great outdoors (assuming we get a summer this year!), but that’s not a bad thing. I have a camera, notebook and pen - what more does a writer need?

I started this blog on 29th November 2007, with a post called Which Magazines Do I Write For? Although aimed primarily at my Writers Bureau students, I hoped it would also offer some useful tips to any other passing writers. And here we are, 495 posts later. See? Who’d have thought back in 2007 I’d have written nearly 500 blog postings by May 2016? (Remember what I’ve said in the past - regular writing makes you a more productive writer!)

This is not the end of this blog, though. Far from it. I plan to continue posting, although I shan’t be posting quite as frequently, as I have done in the past. I fancy taking a week or two, or three, off, from time to time. (Why not sign up for updates by email, to ensure you keep up with my less frequent posts, if you haven’t already?)

So here’s to new chapters. Why not go through your own in-trays and notebooks and reacquaint yourself with some of your old ‘new’ ideas? You never know what you might stumble across.


Good luck!


PS - And if you’ve read this blog since the start, can I thank you for reading all 242,031 words!