Thursday, 16 December 2010

The good the bad and the ugly

One of my all time favourite films and yet watching it now, I find it too slow. Maybe because I don't have time to watch such a long movie in one sitting?

I passed my exam for T306 Managing complexity: a systems approach!

Ended up with a grade 2 pass overall for the course, which I'm delighted with. This ranks as one of my all time top exam results, even though I just scraped the grade 2 result. Goes right up there with the only exam I ever got a first pass for - Technical Drawing, way back when I sat my O Grades. Anyone remember those?

That year I also got my first fail. I received a D for Craft and Design... That was a bad one. Funny to think that a D grade at University counts as a pass and although I would have been disapointed to have received that for T306, I would have been relieved to not require a resit!

My ugly came the following year. I sat Higher Grade History and English in my fifth year and received no award for both. I had extenuating circumstances, having had a major illness that kept me off school during a crucial month, and yet failing so completely in those subjects was a blow.

Perhaps because I did so poorly back then, I've always felt I've had something to prove. It wasn't long afterwards that I signed up for my first night class. I got passes for a couple of O Grades over the next few years but nothing spectacular. Because I had never gone to University or College, I had a belief that I wasn't capable enough. It never occured to me that I might actually find College or University study easier than school.

It was transformational to find out, while doing my College HNC, that there are subjects that I'm good at. Perhaps because I found those subjects relevant and enjoyable. Realising that I can enjoy and excel has kept me studying and made a huge difference to my results.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Rewrites

Don't you just hate them?

If nothing else the OU's creative writing course is giving me exposure to aspects of writing that I desperately need experience in. Having written around a dozen short stories over the past twenty years, it is heart breaking to think none of them may be publishable, yet this is a fact I need to tackle.

My second assignment is to write a short story, 2,200 words in length and a short commentary. My first draft was over 4,000 words long. I tried editing it after a couple of days and while I wasn't happy with it, was totally stumped as to how I could cut fifty percent and still write the story I had intended.

I took Stephen King's advice and let the draft sit for a week. On Monday I tried tackling it again and spent a whole morning with my thoughts going round in circles. I eventually concluded that I just did not believe in the scenario myself and decided to rewrite almost from scratch. I still wanted to retain some major plot points and the essence of the ending.

By Tuesday afternoon I had written over 1,800 words and realised I was only half way through the story I was now trying to write. Cue attempts to tear out what little hair I have left.

I finally let my wife read both drafts. Quite simply she said I could probably cut out the majority of the first half of the story of my first draft and still make it work.

Cutting so drastically seems to be a technique widely used. I still wasn't happy with the first draft in terms of believability so decided to concentrate on the second. I wasn't able to bring myself to use cutting quite as randomly as simply removing the first three pages but eventually persuaded myself to kill off a major character and cut the first half down to 1,400 words.

Killing off that character allowed me a useful new perspective on the story. I had been blinkered from the start, trying to force a certain outcome that required this character. I was able to come up with a new ending last night which left me only slightly outside the word count. Plenty of room to trim!

I think I now need to let the third draft sit a few days so I can read it as a reader and hopefully finish the editing process. Once I'm done, and the assignment submitted, I'll post the drafts online for anyone who is interested in hwo I got from A to D.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Declutter goal

Okay, so it is nowhere near any of my 100 goals but, with Scotland gridlocked today and my wife unable to get to her work or I to my second interview, she suggested we make some room for a Christmas tree.

We found several dozen video cassettes that we could throw out or send to a charity shop. Tidying up our sitting room led to a need to make space elsewhere and so we started sorting through our collection of books. We managed to throw a few out but still have far more than we have time to read.

There were a couple of books which we wondered if they might sell on eBay. We have a few bits and pieces that we know we will never use again but can't quite bring ourselves to throw out: PCMCIA network cards from when I tried to set up a LAN party; A Palm Vx organizer that was the coolest piece of kit ten years ago; and DVD box sets that I should have sold the minute I finished watching them.

Well, they are all listed on eBay now. If you fancy a peek at some of the junk I've been hoarding, check out my listings.

If they don't sell, there is always a charity shop willing to take them off my hands.

It feels good to make some space but I'm conscious that behind our cupboard doors, we still have boxes we haven't unpacked since we moved ten years ago... On the plus side, there is a good chance Scotland will be gridlocked tomorrow and we can spend another day decluttering. What joy!

Friday, 3 December 2010

I spy with my little eye... something the colour of see through

I braved the arctic conditions gripping Scotland today to secure a Christmas present for my youngest daughter. With the help of her sister and brother we managed to distract her while I bought it. The bag provided was only partially opaque and I thought it wouldn't be a problem as she has only just started learning to read until eldest daughter pointed out the box has the same brightly coloured picture as the TV ad youngest has been getting excited over.

I think we successfully hid the present. On the way back, stuck behind a JCB for the first few miles and reluctant to overtake on potentially slippy roads I started playing I spy. Youngest daughter came up with the title of this post!

It has been a slow month and slower week. My ten year old son has earned more than I have this month! I discovered that links I've included to products on Amazon have actually generated some sales. A grand total of 96p earned. My son earned more than that by shovelling snow from neighbours paths. I'm proud of him!

I've spent far more on Amazon recently than I have earned. My tutor has recommended several books so I have purchased: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft; My Grammar and I (Or Should That Be 'Me'?): Old-School Ways to Sharpen Your English; and The Penguin Guide to Punctuation (Penguin Reference Books).

I have begun reading My grammer and I and have yet to start the Penguin guide to punctuation. I've found Stephen King's On Writing to be fascinating. However, while it has inspired me, I think from King's description that I have writers block. King suggests that writers block is knowing what one wants to write but not wanting to do so. I was wondering this morning if being out of work is part of the problem. I generally feel more able to tackle difficult projects when I am earning money. There is something about not earning money that makes me reluctant to do anything other than try and get another job.

I often think that being out of work will be an opportunity to write more or complete another project and yet - even last month, after my wife started her new contract, I could not keep myself from checking the job sites every day and applying for a few jobs. When it comes down to it, I need to work. I need to provide for my family.

I had an interview two weeks ago for a permie job. I've been invited back for a second interview. It was encouraging to have done better in my bid than England with their World Cup bid this week.

If I am successful in the second interview I might have a few more weeks to work on my writers course. I have written a short story this month for my second assignment but at 4000 words it is twice as long as the word count so will need some serious re-writes. I will need to make as much progress as I can with the free time I have left.