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Things I Learned in Writing Class this Semester (Part III) November 30, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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Here is hopefully the final part of “Things I Learned in Writing Class this Semester”.  Parts I and II can be found here and here.

Read, read and read

Without a doubt, I’ve read more this year than any other year of my life.  I’m still not a prodigious reader like those who can read a book a day, or 3 books a week.  I just can’t focus for that long in a single block, and there’s always too many other things I want to do. 

But what I have discovered is that the old adage is definitely true — to be a writer you have to be a reader.  The more you read the better you write.  This semester I’ve read a lot of non-fiction.  For one writer I interviewed, I read about 50 of his articles (some 5000-6000 words) in the space of a week or so.  This is in addition to all the weekly readings we had to do for class and my leisure readings on the side.

One slight problem I had was that if I kept reading the same person, I would tend to start emulating that writer’s style and voice — but after a while I realised that this was because I hadn’t really found my own yet.  Once I started feeling more comfortable with my own writing, that no longer became an issue.

The bigger problem was that I started to become a different type of reader — one that was always looking out for the writer’s style, trying to identify what is good and what is bad in the writing, so as to improve my own.  This was particularly the case when I was reading for my editing class.  It’s good to be analytical but doing too much of it drains you and takes away the fun from the story.

I guess it’s a matter of separating your leisure reading from your professional one, but it takes more discipline than I’ve developed thus far.

Write, write and write

You can read all you want, but improvements don’t manifest until you start writing.

I’ve written more in the last two years than I could have ever imagined — first of course on blogs and websites, and also the first draft of my novel, and then for the writing course itself and for publication.

I haven’t found writing for fun, for assessment and for publication too different to be honest.  I try and approach it all with the same level of professionalism and enthusiasm.  It’s been fascinating reading over my stuff over the years and seeing how I’ve progressed and changed as a writer.  A lot of it is still crap but occasionally I can see a glimmer of hope, a spark, a moment of clarity — and that keeps me going through the times I struggle (which is often).

But yeah, it’s a matter of writing, writing and writing some more.  The only way you’re going to improve.  In my mind (usually when I wake up in the middle of the night), I can come up with some awesome stuff, or so I think, but when I try and replicate it the next morning on the page, it’s never nearly as good.  Maybe if I keep writing I’ll be able to do it some day.

Time flies when you’re having fun

It’s been one of the shortest years I can remember — since March, the everything has just flown by.  Interestingly, as a lawyer, I used to read and write all day as well, but it bored me to death, stressed me out and made the days feel like they would drag on forever.  Now writing creatively, it’s the complete opposite — I’m always engaged, I find it cathartic, and the days would always end too quickly.

What I’m trying to say is that time flies when you are having fun and you’re doing the things you want to do in life.  I don’t know where this road will lead me, and frankly, it scares me sometimes, but right now I’m just trying to enjoy every moment while it lasts.

Next year will be different and bring with it a new set of challenges.  Can’t wait.

Day 1: Orientation February 22, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in On Writing, Study.
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So here I am, in the university computer labs, having just escaped from a massive auditorium of wide-eyed students.

Today is Orientation Day, and it was brutal.

Sadly, the first thing I had to do today was head back to the office.  Amidst my euphoria on Friday afternoon, I had forgotten to hand back my work pass.  So I thought I’d get in early, avoid everyone, and get out of there before anyone spotted me.

No such luck.  I bumped into at least 5 people that recognised me, inside the building, outside the building, and on the street.  They all thought I had done a George Costanza (ie quit and then come back, pretending it didn’t happen), but appeared to accept my story.

About 30 minutes later, I stepped back inside the university building where I spent 5 years (and completed 2 degrees) of my life.  My alma mater.  Everything looked eerily familiar but strangely different.  Plenty of student helpers on were hand to direct us to the Orientation welcoming session which was just about to commence.

The outside of the auditorim hall was packed to the rafters.  I was taken aback, having forgotten what it was like at these things.  I quickly found my faculty table and grabbed a welcome guide and some other crap.  I found a quiet corner away from all the bumping and grinding, and began flicking through the pages.  I burst out laughing when I spotted the massive photo of a good friend of mine (and his then-girlfriend, now wife) who completed his undergraduate degree with me more than 5 years ago!  Looks like my university doesn’t update its photos very often.

When the time came, we filed into the auditorium like a line of ants.  Uniformed staff directed us to our seats.  The place looked exactly as I had remembered it.  I had done plenty of examinations in that room over the years, and it always made me nervous.  The last time I was there was in 2004, for my graduation, and I remember being especially nervous (‘sweaty palms’ nervous) because I was the first from my degree to step on that stage and I knew I had to make chit chat with a former Justice of the High Court of Australia.  Of course, I mumbled and made a fool out of myself.

When everyone was seated, I saw a familiar face reach the podium.  Hang on!  That guy used to lecture me in something!  He looked almost exactly the same, except fatter (he was a chunker even back in my day) and balder (and trust me, he didn’t have much back then either).  He still had that whiny voice though, which I would recognise anywhere.

Very quickly, I got bored and began surveying the surrounding students.  It was an interesting mix, with what appeared to be plenty of international students.  What caught my eye in particular was the fashion.  Some were all glammed up, in their prettiest outfits.  Others were dressed more casually, in T-shirts and jeans (like myself).  There were a few that went all out, to be individualistic, I suppose.  One chubby fella was wearing skin tight demin shorts and a loose grey T-shirt with massive holes at the armpits.  It wasn’t a great look, even for him.

The head of the university then got to the lectern and began telling us what a great choice we made and showing us photos of famous alumni.  She really talked up the place too, about how students and former students were making a real difference in the world.  I guess it was a reinforcement speech, more than anything else.  After all, we had already accepted our offers.

Then came the weirdest part of the ceremony.  They had this Aboriginal dance ‘group’ perform live on stage.  I was expecting something awesome, but truth be told it was kind of embarrassing.  Now, I love Aboriginal culture, but this was just a bunch of old, overweight Aborigines doing lame stomping and clapping.  They were literally panting by the time they made their way to the stage.  They even got a few students to go up on stage to dance with them.  It was extremely awkward.

Next, a Peruvian dude who went through with us the events of the week.  There were socials, seminars, all that jazz.  I was just dying to get out of there.  The students around me got restless and began chatting.  Loudly, and consistently.  It was rude, but I didn’t want to be the snotty postgrad student shushing the younglings.

By the time we finally got out of there for morning tea, I was sprinting in the opposite direction.  I needed a student card to avail myself to the wonderful discounts that awaited me.  I found the student office (thankfully, before everyone else) and it was done quite quickly and painlessly.

However, the photo was atrocious.  My old photo was taken from 10 years ago, and in it my head looked like a brick (I had a ‘military’ haircut back then, as my wife informed me).  In this one, I was approaching floppy-hair mode, but I had eye-bags (from killing myself on the basketball court yesterday) and I had that ‘can I smile yet?’ look on my face.  It would have been a pretty decent mug shot, but what the hell.  It’s only for a year.

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