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First term's over already!

I've been pretty rubbish at keeping this blog up-to-date. Actually, I've been very rubbish at keeping this blog up-to-date. The main reason is because the MA has kept me so busy for the last ten weeks (give or take). However, I've really enjoyed it and think that it's definitely helping me to develop as a writer.

To give some idea of how the course, operates, there are two classes per week - one in Literary Criticism, the other in Experiments in Writing and guest speakers who attend during the term (last term, we had Monica Ali talking about Brick Lane and Jake Arnott talking about The Long Firm).

The Literary Criticism class has a reading list of seven books:

- Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh;

- Slow Man by J. M. Coetzee;

- Brick Lane by Monica Ali;

- Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut;

- Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky;

- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe; and

- A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

We also had to read The Long Firm by Jake Arnott because he was a guest speaker and there's a recommended reading list as well (which isn't mandatory to read, but I am picking through a few books on it). For the Literary Criticism class, two people were selected to do a presentation on a subject or theme chosen by the teacher (I did mine on Indemnity Only) and the class then discusses the book or things thrown up about the book, the author or its genre. You also have to write two reviews, each picking one book from the list (the first is a practice run, the second the assessed version).

I really felt that I got a lot out of this class because it meant I read books I'd otherwise never have picked up (particularly Coetzee, who would never have appeared on my radar before and whose book, Disgrace, I'm not tempted to go out and by). I also feel that I improved my review skills - I keep a separate on-line journal for reviews of the books that I read during the year, and I think I'm now focused now in my reviews than I was before I started the course.

The Experiments in Writing classes focus in on particular writing skills - point of view and place, dialogue, characterisation, research and editing. Six assignments are set, with deadlines or between one and three weeks and each assignment carrying a word limit. Everyone in the class emails their assignment out to the rest of the class and between four and six people have their pieces workshopped. You are expected to read and comment on other people's work, which is really useful because it means you're getting 14 opinions on what you're trying to do and as the class got to know each other, I think everyone became a little braver about saying what they didn't like about a piece rather than just focusing on what they did like. Assessment for the term is carried out on two of those assignments which have been edited in line with comments received. One benefit I did get from the assignments is that you can write scenes from your novel for the class, which means that I was getting feedback on things that I want to put into my WIP and in some cases, had me thinking about planned scenes in a completely different way.

There's also a separate personal tutorial session, where you discuss what you're planning to write as your novel and get some idea for how to proceed, which I found useful not least because it's the first time I've attempted to summarise my WIP to a third party and found that there were things that didn't translate particularly well. I also got some good ideas on how to portray the two main leads, which has helped me with their characterisation.

What I have found is that the combination of writing assignments and reading the work of other people in the class has cut into my 'own' writing time (particularly because I also have the day job, which sometimes means I don't get home until late in the evening). In all, I've only managed 2,500 words this term on top of what I did in the assignments, which is a little disappointing, but I'm hoping to make up for this over the Christmas break.

To give some stats for the first term:

Total number of assignments for the course: 8.

Total number of books read for the course: 7

Total number of words written during the course: 9,490

Total number of words written on the WIP additional to the course: 2,438.

I think I mentioned that I was working on a detailed plot structure in my first blog. I managed to complete that before the MA started (and it came in at a whopping 18,000 words, broken down into scenes that I needed to cover). I'm writing according to that structure, although I have found as I write that I can't stick to it rigidly - mainly because I find that new things or points come to me as I write, e.g. I realise that to put in one scene, I'll have to add a scene before dealing with a particular point. I'm quite comfortable in doing this because I find that it leaves me scope to be creative and yet I've got a map to follow if I go too off course.

We've got two pieces of homework to do over the Christmas holidays, although I think I'm already pretty much set on both. As I said, the idea is to try and use the opportunity to work on my WIP some more - ideally to try and get around 7,500 words done on it before the New Year (although this is pretty ambitious for me).

Next term's already looking pretty hectic, especially because there's a 3,000 word literary essay due (which is freaking me out a little, although I think I know what I'm going to do it on). Nevertheless, I shall try to keep this updated a little more often. Although I can't make any guarantees ...

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to anyone and everyone who reads this.