MAJOR BLOG CHANGES (read if you’re here for the books and writing stuff)

If you’ve been here for a while then you may know that my blog didn’t always have a ‘Books’ section, or a ‘Creative Writing’ section. Guess what? Soon it won’t have them again, because I am creating a separate blog, specifically for these things.

Ecstatically Em was always meant to be a food and lifestyle blog, and I added the literature and creative writing aspect of it towards the end of my time at uni. Now that these sections are growing, and getting a really good response from you guys, I feel they need a space of their own. This blog will be remaining as a recipes and lifestyle blog, and the new blog will be a place to read book reviews, creative writing tips, updates on my own attempts to get published as a poet, and (maybe) some of my own poetry (if I kick myself into putting that up).

When this post goes up I will be busy exporting all of my posts that need to be moved to the new blog. Anyone who reads this blog purely for the writing aspects (I can tell from your usernames), then head on over to the new blog, and please follow it to carry on receiving updates! Initially these posts will be old ones I’m moving over. As the exporting tool hasn’t been working for me, and despite chatting with WordPress Help it still isn’t, I’m doing a manual move. Alongside just having started a new job this could take a week or so. After that be expecting some new content- though I may throw new stuff in if I get the chance…

I’m incredibly excited to be starting a new blog. I’ve had this one (including my changing the name, and moving from Blogger to WordPress) since my time in sixth form. Obviously a person changes quite a lot in 5 years, and so does their mind-set and writing style. Even my photography style has changed. This new blog is chance to show a side of my writing this blog doesn’t showcase, and basically start from scratch. I plan on making some changes to Ecstatically Em and my linked IG account as well, but that’s for a different post!

The new blog title and a link to it is below. You’ll have to put up with me whilst I get it up and running, but I hope to hear from you over there…

 

Shelf-Bound

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Creative Ego (and why you need to break up with it)

I heard the phrase “Creative Ego” when listening to a Lavendaire podcast (I cannot recommend this girl highly enough- her podcasts can be found here, and the specific episode I was listening to here), but I actually knew what the Creative Ego was long beforehand. It was one of the first things I was taught to abandon during my degree.

As budding creative writers myself and my friends were told that we would be sharing our work with each other on a regular basis. Every seminar. It was okay if we didn’t want to for the first couple of weeks while we got comfortable, but after that sharing would be the norm. The goal of this? To prevent us from becoming precious about our own work, basically.

Here are some cold hard truths about creative writing : you will always find someone out there that you feel is better than you. Not everyone will like your writing. Sometimes you will struggle with your writing. Sometime you will love your writing. Much as you are proud of your writing, your writing is not you. If it doesn’t go well at some point, then suck it up and move on. Sharing got us into the mind-set of: I can improve this, the first draft is never perfect, I’ll keep going. The alternative was people throwing tantrums because their Creative Ego would be telling them that they had been criticised and either a) everyone else was wrong, or b) they were a shit writer and should never write again. Some people I knew were given creative criticism, and couldn’t handle it. The walls went up, and they decided that they hated writing. This could be described as giving in to the Creative Ego.

Now, the Creative “Ego” might make it sound like these people were simply egotistical pricks. Wrong. The “Ego” can also be, I feel, someone who is a perfectionist. Someone who wants to succeed, and can feel a bit insure when they think they aren’t succeeding. I’ve given into my ego at many times in my life, and in many areas of my life. Doesn’t make me a bad person, or an egotistical prick. It just meant I had to work on embracing failures when they came along. Many of us can take criticism on pieces of work like an essay quite easily, but when it comes to an extended project or piece of creative writing, our ego can get in the way of us using this criticism and using it to our advantage, because this writing matters to us. It is important that we are proud of this writing, and that others also enjoy reading it. Guess how you achieve that? You take a deep breath, take the criticism and the compliments (because by sharing you do get those too), and improve your work continually. You scrap your ego.

I feel immensely privileged to have had my creative ego shattered pretty early on. It allowed me to abandon some pieces of work or edit and improve it, without being defensive or upset. If your passion is writing then that’s great. Sometimes you will get emotional over it, sometimes you will have your reasons for sincerely rejecting a suggestion- but just don’t be precious about your work: accept criticism and suggestions. Test them out before rejecting them. Even if you end up not liking the result, you tried something new. If you hold onto your creative ego it can mean you never even get to try new things, because you end up afraid of criticism. By my university having a policy where you had to sit and listen to suggestions from everyone, take some notes, and only then could you respond/explain/question suggestions, we got used to criticism. We ended up more open-minded, having broken up with our creative egos. Try it, and see what happens to your writing.

Creative Constipation. Yes, you read that right.

I know I have a few people who read this blog that love reading, writing, and all things creative. And so I want to talk about something that plagues pretty much all of us creatives from time to time. I am going to call it creative constipation. Its not writer’s block, its different. Just to clarify. I might ‘TM’ it.

Creative constipation is when you have an idea that doesn’t want to come out. It is there. It is ready to be introduced to the world- but you can’t get it out. And it becomes uncomfortable carrying it around all day every day. Sometimes it is downright frustrating and even painful. Other ideas build up behind it, but also can’t get out. You stop wanting to write or be creative because of all of the shit building up (pardon the pun). Do you get why I’m calling it this now? This is literally the only way to describe it. Writer’s block is, for me, when you simply can’t think of an idea. This is much more frustrating, and it does get me down from time to time.

Right now, having moved back to Bradford from Newcastle, I have lost my creative writing circle. One I’ve had due to my degree for three whole years, and I’m struggling to find a replacement back home. Yes, they’re on the end of messenger, but it isn’t the same and believe it or not I have an aversion to being social on “social” media. Face to face is best for writing support, I think. Changes like this can often feel a bit stifling, because the ideas are still there, but you don’t really have anyone else to talk them through with. My family don’t want to hear me rambling on about poetry. My friends back home aren’t into poetry, though they will patiently listen to be try and explain an idea for something I want to write, bless them. A lot of them love prose however, and so if I can translate an idea for a poetry collection into a prose-y sounding synopsis, its much easier to explain and they manage to fill me with enthusiasm and ideas.

But what can we do to relieve creative constipation if you don’t have any creative lifelines? (its okay, you can laugh. I’m absolutely wetting myself on this side of the screen). Well, you do what you do with normal constipation. For that you increase the amount of fruit and veg and fibre and water you intake (can you tell I’m also into #health?). For creative constipation you need to look for things that might link to your creative idea that you haven’t been doing, and might help push it out onto paper. For example, I’m looking at working tattoos into the next batch of poems I want to write, so these are things I can do:

  • Find a photography book of poems if possible, for some inspiration
  • Sketch tattoos characters would wear and consider why?
  • Visit art galleries- what would I want to recreate on my body?
  • Speak to one of my friends who is covered in amazing tattoos, about the process and how it feels
  • Get a tattoo (might put that on hold until financially viable)
  • Pinterest! Instagram!
  • I have to dream up the characters and the world of my poems, so look around at different cultures, movies, books etc. and different styles and methods of tattooing
  • People watch.
  • Consider people’s reactions to tattoos

This list could go on and on and on. Not all these tasks are going to produce things that make it into the poems, but they might just inadvertently trigger the release of those ideas that have built up. Think of these things as the fibre that will release that constipation. If the things you think may help don’t work, then take the laxative: force yourself to go to a creative writing class. Even if it looks like an awful one. Even if you end up listening to Betty telling you about the collection of short stories she’s writing about her cat Tiddles, its sure to produce a reaction that gets your idea onto the page as your brain goes into spasm. However painful.

So what do you think? Are any of you feeling creatively constipated?

Level Up Your Creativity: 9 writing tips you may not have thought of…

Doing the degree that I am on, I have to pull ideas almost as if from out of a magic hat sometimes. Even if I’m feeling like the least creative person in the world.

As I’ve mentioned before, creativity is something which, up until reaching university, most of us thought just happened. You felt creative, or you didn’t. If you didn’t feel creative, you didn’t write. Wrong.

Although I firmly believe that great writers see the world in a different way- we’re often a little more observant, or just plain odd- I don’t believe that creativity is something that naturally springs forth from our minds 24/7. Which could be great news if you feel like you aren’t the most creative person- or bad news if you simply don’t know where to begin looking to get creative. Below, I have several ways you can level up your creativity, and hopefully begin churning out some writing more often:

Change up your writing spot

If you usually work from home then go sit in a café, library, simply on a park bench- or even in a train station. Look and listen to what is around you. Take a couple of notes, and see if anything comes up which you feel that you could later use.

Change up your writing time

I usually write in the morning- around 10am seems to be when I tend to grab a hot drink and sit down to write. However, recently I’ve found that my writing tends to be better in the evening, just before I go to bed. Don’t assume that just because one writing time has always worked for you, it will continue to do so. You may find that your best time is fairly odd- I know lecturers and fellow students who get up in the wee-hours to write, or stay up until 11pm to write.

Go and look around somewhere containing prompts

This is slightly different to the writing spot you may choose. A writing spot is somewhere you can sit and write, and have things happen around you that you don’t have to interact with. Somewhere containing prompts could be a museum, art gallery, photography exhibition, landmark, or an area of your city you haven’t explored yet. Exploring and learning/seeing something new is the key thing here.

Find somewhere to work that has just the right level of background noise

When you’re revising or trying to work on something complex you may find that complete silence is the way to go. I do. However, when I’m being creative a certain level of background noise is required. Coffee shops actually provide the perfect amount of background noise; it isn’t too intrusive on what you’re doing, but it means you aren’t completely alone with your thoughts.

Listen to music

Same as the above, although you may also find that if you usually listen to music in order to write, that changing up your backing track is the adjustment you need to product more creative work. If you usually go in for pop, try alternative or classical, and vice versa. Continue reading

The Three Stages of Creativity

It’s been nearly two years since I began my English Literature and Creative Writing degree (more info here: http://ecstaticallyem.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/english-literature-creative-writing-my.html ), and I can’t believe that after this next term it’s summer break, and after that…my third year. Which is quite honestly absolutely terrifying.

In the past two years of creative writing there is one three step concept that my seminar leader told me, which has stuck in my mind. It’s this, reading widely, and a hell of a lot of coffee which has helped me to develop my writing from what it was, to what it is now.

The self aware stage is the stage at which you can be expecting to achieve a high 2.1, or even a 1.0. A 1.0 is from 70-80 marks wise. And a first is considered pretty much publishable. Which, as a creative writer is where you want to ideally end up…



UNCONCIOUS

(AKA. “I’m a brilliant writer. This is awesome.”)

This is the point you are possibly at before you come to uni, and even during the beginning of first year. Every poem/script/prose piece you write is fantastic. There is no need to pursue a second draft, never mind anything past that. At this point your writing is unconscious. You write, and just get everything on your head onto the page. You believe that you are a talented writer. Which you most likely are. But then we reach the next stage…

SELF CONCIOUS
(AKA. “Sh*t, my writing is actually awful. I can’t do this. How did I get onto this course?! *hyperventilates*)

This usually comes at some point either approaching, or following, your first few marked pieces of work, or even your first portfolio. This is the point where you begin to look at your work and feel awkward about it. You feel like it is no good. You go through multiple drafts, and you sigh with relief when someone makes a positive comment about your work. You aren’t entirely sure what your style of writing is yet. At this point a lot of people lose the will with writing, and drop out or transfer to straight lit (although sometimes this is for other reasons; you may simply discover you are better at writing dissertations, or enjoy the lit side of the degree more). Push through this stage, and pay careful attention to both your creativity and the technical side of writing, and we reach…

SELF AWARE
(AKA. “My writing is good, I know I can improve it and how, I have my own distinctive style. This is awesome.”)

You understand your writing is good, but it can be improved. You make multiple drafts of your work, and go after creativity instead of waiting for inspiration. At this stage you can read your work, making edits and changes and trying different forms/layouts/phrasing, and (crucially) you can explain why you make these changes. You can see how things make the work better/worse. This is the stage at which your writing will improve dramatically. Chances are, you won’t even notice its improved until you compare your older work to your current work- which is all the more reason to keep what we refer to as a “creative journal”, which is a scrap book of ideas.
There you have it, the stages of becoming a good writer. Even when you reach the last stage, know that your writing is an ongoing process- and that this is part of being self aware. 

English Literature & Creative Writing: My Degree Choice

 I’m willing to bet that if you are reading this post, you are beginning to think about choosing a degree. And that you didn’t know you could actually take a degree in creative writing. I didn’t. The degree choices I was seriously considering were dietetics (and I still hope to pursue this at some point), and straight English Literature. History was also in there for a while when I was much younger, as I have a fascination with oriental and ancient history. However, as my sixth form didn’t run a history A-Level, and I hated my teacher too much to take the GCSE, this was discounted pretty early on.

I have always written. Since the age of about seven, when during “quiet reading time”, I would in fact be writing my own novel. Luckily, my teachers indulged this, as by the age of ten I was reading Agatha Christie novels. Once they had checked I could read those aloud fluently, they allowed me to believe I was writing the next best seller as much as I wanted.

Creative writing, ask anyone studying it, is not a soft choice. English Literature itself is not a soft choice either. On the English Literature and Creative Writing degree we read at least three novels or collections of poetry per week from the English Literature side, plus at least three recommended readings, and then up to seven extra readings (I counted). Sometimes this is more or less, depending on the readings set by each module. We then also have to track down our own extra reading, to show that we have read around the subject.

Creative writing involves (like English Literature) reading around the subject to get used to the technicalities of writing, and also form a pool of inspiration to draw on. Within the creative writing side of the degree, when you read second year, you select a “strand”, these being poetry, prose, or script (during first year you will experience writing in all three forms, and at Newcastle we also had to take a drama module). In your second year you submit an essay along with a collection of creative work that is build up from one of these three (in first year you can submit a portfolio that is a mixture, as you’re still testing the water). The essay is called a “critical commentary”, and reflects on the process of writing, the inspirations, and also the form/technicalities. We then also have to attend poetry and writer’s events. This is then moderated twice in the marking process, in order to make our marks as subjective as possible. This means that two people mark our work, and come to an agreement on our mark. Following this all of the marks from every strand are discussed, so that a 63/80 in the prose strand, is the same as a 63/80 in the poetry and script strands.

As a creative writer you have to try and develop your own voice, but also be aware of the aforementioned technicalities. Doesn’t sound like the traditional “inspiration” idea, huh? Well, in creative writing you learn that any good writer doesn’t wait for inspiration: they go after it with a club. We were encouraged in our first lecture of our first year to carry a notebook at all times, in order to track any grand ideas. Ideas we would then continuously redraft. In my final collection for my second year, each poem had been redrafted at least nine times, most around twelve times.

Taking the joint honours degree has improved my writing, both creatively and formally. I hope that many of you that frequently visit this blog will have noticed that. Some feel that creative writing cannot be taught. I disagree. It can be taught, but as with any other subject, you do better if you already have a natural flair for it. One thing I have noticed is that creative writing students (there are about 20 of us on this specific degree in my year at Newcastle) have minds that work very differently to others. We tend to not so much think outside of the box, but set fire to it and set up a hog roast. This means that we do well at adapting to new situations, and what is expected of us work wise. In seminars we have to constantly experiment with new forms, and so are open to different ways of accomplishing tasks. Many alumni seem to have moved into the advertising industries, or other areas of the media.

On an English Literature with Creative Writing Degree you are taught in several different ways. Seminars for creative writing appear to be what most new students find daunting. The idea of reading out their work and having it critiqued can be a bit much for some. In actual fact, you usually develop a trusting relationship with the people in your seminar- when it comes to creative work at least. You are all there for the same reason. Your seminar leader will too provide feedback, and one piece of advice I live by is this: write down all feedback. Every comment. Every bit of your work that did or didn’t seem to be enjoyed. It comes in handy during the redrafting process, and also when you write the critical commentary. Nothing your seminar leader says will be a throw-away comment, believe me. Creative writing lectures cover more of the technical side of writing, and last around 2 hours at Newcastle University. During this time the lecture will deliver their talk, and you will be set exercises to do, but not to share or read unless you volunteer. My favourite lecturer always says the same thing about the exercises set in the seminars and lectures: he doesn’t care if what you end up with appears in no way directly related to the task set. But, you have to be able to explain why you did it/how you got there. Towards the end of the semester, when your portfolio is due, at Newcastle we have one-on-one tutorials. These are where you bring along the work you have collected up, and discuss it with your seminar leader. It’s a chance to iron out any kinks, ask questions, and think about the order/title/theme of your collection.

In a sense I feel that this degree helps to develop your motivation. In one module I am taking for the English Literature side of my course, the Independent Research Project, we must design and answer a question ourselves, working with texts of our choosing, and then doing a vast quantity of self-led research. Yes, this requires motivation. But with creative writing, when you are unmotivated, it isn’t so simple as going and methodically working through a collection of essays and taking notes. You have to actually force yourself to think creatively. This means that when it comes to projects we may not necessarily be interested in within the work place, creative writing students have some experience of forcing themselves to become inspired.

Okay, the negatives. The one and only, and probably biggest negative, that I can give you is very obvious. Bad feedback on work stings. It can be like a slap around the face. But it means I am now much more willing to listen to criticism when it comes my way. Many people from outside degrees (degrees that aren’t the joint honours creative writing one. And non-joint honours degrees are usually referred to as “straight”. So we have straight literature, history, music, philosophy, psychology, maths, and languages) found it much more difficult to deal with the criticism. Those of us on the degree shrugged our shoulders, went and spoke to our seminar leaders, identified our weak points, and began working on them. Again, this means that creative writing students are well formed for set backs in the work place, simply seeing them as a bump in the road, instead of a mountain.

If you are considering taking a creative writing degree then do your research; not all universities run the degree. It was only introduced around 35 years ago I believe, at the University of East Anglia (according to The Guardian, that is). Of course I am going to recommend Newcastle University, but York St Johns was my second choice for the degree. If you’re concerned about it not being worth the money, then I have to tell you: for the first few years after university I am (in true cynic fashion) not expecting my degree to feel worth the money. The majority of students (barring dentists and medics) leave university and end up in a job that may not be directly related to their degree. But creative writing has given me a bit of an edge when it comes to transferable skills, and it was also a choice that means I get to enjoy the three years I call myself a student.