Tuesday, 3 March 2020

NewBridge Writers Group - Session 5 - Writing and Sharing

Last night's session was the first in which we had complete free reign over what we wrote. There were some magazine cut-outs provided should we wish to use them, but otherwise we could write about exactly what we wanted.

Alex introduced us to a time management tool called the pomodoro technique, which we followed to accomplish two 25 minute sessions of writing.

"The Pomodoro Technique was invented in the early 1990s by developer, entrepreneur, and author Francesco Cirillo. Cirillo named the system “Pomodoro” after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student.

The methodology is simple: When faced with any large task or series of tasks, break the work down into short, timed intervals (called “Pomodoros”) that are spaced out by short breaks. This trains your brain to focus for short periods and helps you stay on top of deadlines or constantly-refilling inboxes.

Pomodoro is a cyclical system. You work in short sprints, which makes sure you’re consistently productive. You also get to take regular breaks that bolster your motivation and keep you creative."

"The “longer break” is usually around 15-30 minutes, whatever it takes to make you feel recharged and ready to start another 25-minute work session.

It’s important to note that a pomodoro is an indivisible unit of work—that means if you’re distracted part-way by a coworker, meeting, or emergency, you either have to end the pomodoro there (saving your work and starting a new one later), or you have to postpone the distraction until the pomodoro is complete. If you can do the latter, Cirillo suggests the “inform, negotiate and call back” strategy."

Following these two bursts of writing, we each shared a piece of our own writing with the group. Most people shared what they had written during the session that evening, but I asked if I could share something that forms a part of my current 'project'. 

At this stage I have lots of questions; I am still working out how this writing will manifest, what form it will take, is it a memoir or do I turn it into a novel? I've been working on the potential content for about a year, on and off, and have lots of work still to do. 

But rather than working through the above on my own, I wanted to make the most of the wonderful opportunity of being in this supportive group of writers, share my work in the hope that they would be generous enough to use their experience, share their knowledge, provide feedback, constructive criticism, ask questions of me, make recommendations and suggestions. 

Due to the personal subject matter, I was really nervous about making the leap and reading aloud words that until last night, had been confined within my notebook or contained within one long Word document. It wasn't until I began reading it aloud that I realised quite how vulnerable I felt. I was petrified that I was going to be judged, that the group would think it was self-indulgent waffle that should well and truly remain in the notebook in which it was written. I was shaking (in truth, that could have been due to the seemingly sub-zero conditions), and terrified to make eye contact with those around me who I have so much respect for. 

But I am so glad that I did it. I learned so much thanks to the groups feedback. This morning I have already thought of new ways in which I can approach some of the problems I am facing with the project.

It was very helpful to discuss structure and think about the different ways I could approach organising the content. 

As I mentioned above, at the moment my writing is collated in a mammoth document. Some parts are written in diary form, and other anecdotes from earlier periods are organised chronologically. It is all rather overwhelming.

Alex showed me how he split the content of his recent book into many different documents and classified each one according to one of 4 categories. He named each document and later, once he had worked out the order, he also numbered them. By splitting his content into smaller chunks, he was able to rearrange the order easily. 

Amy also showed me her plot outline. She had similarly classified different elements according to some predefined categories and had colour-coded these.

I am now eager to apply this technique to my mammoth document, and in doing so, hope to be able to distinguish what are the common 'themes' that I am writing about. These will become my categories.

The section that I had read was very much written from my own voice, and Alex pointed out the need for there to be more points at which it "reached out to the world" and provided a different voice. 

Back up thoughts by using examples of anecdotes. Potentially bring the anecdotes into the narrative.

He used the analogy of a spotlight. In the text that I read, the focus of the spotlight was largely one one character, but this needs to be diluted with less intense light on other characters further away from the focal point of the spotlight.

Perhaps a good starting point would be to use a quote from a different character?

I could also bring forward the reference to 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' as this is another example of reaching out into the world. Perhaps add a line from the book that was of particular importance to me?

When I was reading the text aloud I was conscious that there were numerous points that I could have stopped and it be a neat ending, but the text carried on. I was embarrassed about this. The notion that there were lots of possible endings was then raised in the discussion. Alex spoke about imperfect cadences, which are used in classical music to build tension. They give the impression that the piece is going to conclude, but then it carries on. Too many of these can be frustrating, so I need to look at where to split the text up into different scenes. 

Finally, a concept called 'the kicker' was discussed - if you start the piece with a particular image, you end the piece with a similar image. This provides the reader with a tidy package and a natural closing, For example, if it starts with the reference to my Gran, it could end with reference to my Gran.

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