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Old 29th Sep 2006, 15:37   #1
Stewart
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Default A Nation Of Writers

Quote:
Finding The Plot (Source: BBC)

Everyone has a book inside them - and now we all want to see it published. Creative writing courses, bloggers and writing groups... how did we become a nation of writers?

What's that tap-tap tapping sound in the middle of the night? It's the din of millions of wannabe writers across the land, drafting their irresistible novel, punching out the last lines of a killer screenplay or hammering home their own editorials in a blog.

We've turned into a nation of writers. And this week saw the awarding of a literary prize that taps into the vast lake of unpublished writing - the New Writing Ventures Awards.

This talent-spotting award is specifically for people who have an idea that they want to develop into a published book, with the prize including a year-long writing course as well as £5,000 cash. And it gives agents and publishers a chance to check out the upcoming literary stars.

What does a winning idea look like? This year's fiction category has been won by 27-year-old Eleanor Thom, who entered a chapter from her work-in-progress novel, called Burns. Praised by the judges for being "at once natural and impeccably honed", it's about the experience of Travellers who settled in Scotland in the 1950s.

Even if she wasn't going to be published, she says she would still need to write.

"It's a way of expressing what I couldn't say out loud," she says. And the creative process of writing, she describes as "like playing music, you go into a different zone".

Anyone struggling for a first line can look at how this author hits the ground running with the word "heelabalow".

Explain your life

By winning this competition, and getting signed up by an agent, Ms Thom has already pulled away from the pursuing pack of would-be writers.

Many of these authors, such as the ubiquitous bloggers, self-publish without any expectation of getting into the best-seller lists. So what is fuelling this passion for penmanship?

"There's no better way of making sense of your own life than by writing - and that's where the grassroots explosion has come from," says Chris Gribble, chief executive of the New Writing Partnership, which runs the Arts Council-supported awards.

People are trying to write the story that explains their life - and whereas before they might have been bashful about a couple of confessional poems stuffed in a drawer, now they're upfront about their ambitions.

"There's the X Factor idea of getting up and having a go - with people becoming much more comfortable about the idea of being creative, rather than seeing it as an odd and rather unBritish thing to do," he says.

"The whole process of being a writer is much more realistic for many more people," he says.

Chic shockers

But if you want to see your book in print, what are the cliches to avoid? At present, Chris Gribble says that plots are being packed with twists and turns based on unintended e-mails and discovered text messages.

And there are fashions in the type of novels that people want to write. Currently, literary young guns are slavishly immitating the stylishly provocative French writer Michel Houellebecq and Belgian, Amelie Nothomb.

Anyone wanting to imitate such voguish writers should be cautious. One literary agent said he'd like to hire a double-decker bus to drive around London with an advert warning serious young men: "Please don't send me novels influenced by Houellebecq. I can't take any more."

Agencies get hundreds of unsolicited submissions each week, says Camilla Hornby, at literary agency Curtis Brown.

Not all of these will leap from the page demanding to be published, she says. Those doomed not to see the bookshop window can include copycat novels (does the world need more Dan Brown-style code-cracking?) or self-indulgent stories which are really only of interest to their authors.

There can be other predictable patterns - fortysomething women writing romances about affairs or the serious literary volume overwritten to an inch of its life.

Creative accountants

Swelling the ranks of would-be novelists, says Ms Hornby, are the growing number of creative writing courses.

There are now more than 600 full-time degree courses in creative writing - with some universities offering more than 20 different types of creative writing degree.

These can be creative works in themselves - with combinations including creative writing and archaeology (University of Chester), creative writing with accountancy (University of Bolton) and the much more plausible creative writing and public relations (College of St Mark and St John, Plymouth).

Publishers are on the receiving end of the literary avalanche - and commissioning editor, Will Atkins, says that it can feel as though there are more people writing books than reading them.

Mr Atkins commissions novels for Macmillan New Writing, which was set up as an outlet for first works. In its first year, the publisher received about 5,000 novels, he says.

"There seems to have been this immense increase in the general public deciding to start on a novel," he says.

Just remember to start and finish with an interesting word - that's the way to start a literary "heelabalow".
Why the hell would anyone want to write like Houellebecq?
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Old 29th Sep 2006, 16:45   #2
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Default Re: A Nation Of Writers

Quote:
One literary agent said he'd like to hire a double-decker bus to drive around London with an advert warning serious young men: "Please don't send me novels influenced by Houellebecq. I can't take any more."
Ha-ha!
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Old 30th Sep 2006, 13:10   #3
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Default Re: A Nation Of Writers

Quote:
There are now more than 600 full-time degree courses in creative writing - with some universities offering more than 20 different types of creative writing degree
Ahem. There's only one really good course though.

Oh God, I'm part of a trend...
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Old 30th Sep 2006, 16:54   #4
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Default Re: A Nation Of Writers

This tiny books speaks to some of the questions raised in the BBC piece. I apologize for being unable to delete some of the links at the end of the excerpt. I've also taken out some of his thoughts on the political process which are great but don't really fit the thread.

It's a great thing, imho, that so many are writing and tapping into that power.

I say fuck the irony, trust your words, write what you know.

EXCERPT

For Common Things
Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today
By JEDEDIAH PURDY
Knopf
Read the Review

This book is a response to an ironic time. Irony has become our marker of worldliness and maturity. The ironic individual practices a style of speech and behavior that avoids all appearance of naivete — of naive devotion, belief, or hope. He subtly protests the inadequacy of the things he says, the gestures he makes, the acts he performs. By the inflection of his voice, the expression of his face, and the motion of his body, he signals that he is aware of all the ways he may be thought silly or jejune, and that he might even think so himself. His wariness becomes a mistrust of language itself. He disowns his own words.
In answer to all that, this book is a plea for the value of declaring hopes that we know to be fragile. It is an argument that those hopes are no less necessary for their fragility, and that permitting ourselves to neglect them is both reckless and impoverishing. My purpose in writing is to take our inhibition seriously, and to ask what would be required to overcome it, to speak earnestly of uncertain hopes.
To do so requires understanding today's ironic manner. There is something fearful in this irony. It is a fear of betrayal, disappointment, and humiliation, and a suspicion that believing, hoping, or caring too much will open us to these. Irony is a way of refusing to rely on such treacherous things. However, there is also something perceptive about irony, and sometimes we must wonder whether the ironist is right. The ironist expresses a perception that the world has grown old, flat, and sterile, and that we are rightly weary of it. There is nothing to delight, move, inspire, or horrify us. Nothing will ever surprise us. Everything we encounter is a remake, a re-release, a ripoff, or a rerun. We know it all before we see it, because we have seen it all already.
What has so exhausted the world for us? For one, we are all exquisitely self-aware. Around us, commercials mock the very idea of commercials, situation comedies make being a sitcom their running joke, and image consultants detail the techniques of designing and marketing a personality as a product. We can have no intimate moment, no private words of affection, empathy, or rebuke that we have not seen pronounced on a thirty-foot screen before an audience of hundreds. We cannot speak of atonement or apology without knowing how those words have been put to cynical, almost morally pornographic use by politicians. Even in solitary encounters with nature, bicycling on a country road or hiking on a mountain path, we reluctant ironists realize that our pleasure in these places has been anticipated by a thousand L. L. Bean catalogues, Ansel Adams calendars, and advertisements promising a portion of the rugged or bucolic life. So we sense an unreal quality in our words and even in our thoughts. They are superficial, they belong to other people and other purposes; they are not ours, and it may be that nothing is properly ours. It is this awareness, and the wish not to rest the weight of our hopes on someone else's stage set, that the ironic attitude expresses.
Irony is a response to something else as well. In roughly the past twenty-five years, politics has gone dead to the imagination. It has ceased being the site of moral and historical drama. It has come to seem petty, tedious, and parochial...



...All of that is now so thoroughly gone that it is difficult even to recall. If it is difficult to speak earnestly of personal matters, to speak earnestly about public issues seems perverse: not only naive, but wrongly or confusedly motivated. Politics is now presumed to be the realm of dishonest speech and bad motives. Moreover, it is accepted that everyone sees through the speech, that the motives are as transparent as the new clothes of the fabled emperor. Public life takes on a quality of unbelievable ritual incredulously performed, like the ceremonies of an aged and failing faith, conducted with the old litanies because no others are available and because rote speech is indifferent to its content anyway.
Our private wariness and the public failure of politics are among the sources of our ironic attitude. Understanding them, describing and diagnosing irony, is one of the things that I attempt to do in this book, and is the concern of the first two chapters. The rest of the book is an attempt to express a hope that seems to me too important to let go unacknowledged. I do not believe that, even where it is strongest, irony has convinced us that nothing is real, true, or ours. We believe, when we let ourselves, that there are things we can trust, people we can care for, words we can say in earnest. Irony makes us wary and abashed in our belief. We do not want the things in which we trust to be debunked, belittled, torn down, and we are not sure that they will be safe in the harsh light of a reflexively skeptical time. Nor can we stand the thought that they might be trivialized, brought into someone's ad campaign, movie dialogue, or self-help phrase. So we keep our best hopes safe in the dark of our own unexpressed sentiments and half-forbidden thoughts.
I believe that there is too much at stake in the reality of these thoughts to keep them hidden. They matter too much for us to say of them, by our behavior, that we have outgrown them or never believed them at all. So far as they are true, they are not fragile unless we neglect them. The only way to test their truth, and the best way to sustain them, is to bring them into the world, to think through them, and to act on them.
For me, writing about these things requires writing about West Virginia. I was born and raised there, on a small hillside farm in the steep, ragged foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. That is where I first knew things that I was sure were real, trustworthy, and mine. It is still the source of my hopes for such things, and my confidence in them. I cannot talk about those things without talking about that place...



...The burden of this book is twofold. It is that more things than we usually recognize may deserve our trust or hope. It is also that, if we care for certain things, we must in honesty hazard some hope in their defense. A good deal of what we value most, whether openly or in silence, clearly or confusedly, is necessarily common. These are things that affect us all, and we can only preserve or neglect them together. In the end they cannot be had alone.
Defending this idea means resisting the cheapening of words by thoughtless use and by the sophisticated and cynical manipulations of advertising and politics. Those uses make words mere tools for getting what their users want — typically sales, sympathy, or votes. They also corrode our belief that words can have other kinds of power, that they can bring us nearer to things and help us to be more attentive to them.
One response is to try to draw out in words a hope that begins as intensely personal, trusting that another will say, "Yes, you are not alone in that."

...I have written this book for two reasons: so that I will not forget what I hope for now, and because others might conclude that they hope for the same things. That would be the beginning of turning some of our private, half-secret repositories of hope and trust into common things. I think that some of them must be common, if they are to be at all.
We live in the disappointed aftermath of a politics that aspired to change the human predicament in elemental ways, but whose hopes have resolved into heavy disillusionment. We have difficulty trusting the speech and thought that we might use to try to make sense of our situation. We have left behind an unreal hope to fall into a hopelessness that is inattentive to and mistrustful of reality. What we might hope for now is a culture able to approach its circumstances with attention and care, and a politics that, as part of a broader responsibility for common things, turns careful attention into caring practice.
I mean this book as one invitation to turn our attention to essential and neglected things, and a suggestion about the shape that such renewed attention might take. It is one young man's letter of love for the world's possibilities, written in the hope that others will recognize their own desire in it and will respond. I cannot help believing that we need a way of thinking, and doing, that has in it more promise of goodness than the one we are now following. I want to speak a word for that belief, in the hope of an answer.
(C) 1999 Jedediah Purdy All rights reserved. ISBN: 0-375-40708-1

Last edited by Wavid; 30th Sep 2006 at 18:24.
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Old 30th Sep 2006, 17:22   #5
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Default Re: A Nation Of Writers

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Originally Posted by Beth View Post
I apologize for being unable to delete some of the links at the end of the excerpt.
Why not?
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Old 30th Sep 2006, 18:24   #6
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Default Re: A Nation Of Writers

Who knows? I've done it though!
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Old 30th Sep 2006, 18:27   #7
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Default Re: A Nation Of Writers

Thank you so much. I highlighted the portions but when I hit delete, they wouldn't budge.
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Old 2nd Oct 2006, 19:35   #8
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Default Re: A Nation Of Writers

Quote:
Swelling the ranks of would-be novelists, says Ms Hornby, are the growing number of creative writing courses.

There are now more than 600 full-time degree courses in creative writing - with some universities offering more than 20 different types of creative writing degree.
Although it's no doubt true that slush piles are growing dramatically, I have to say, I've been a guest tutor in some creative writing university courses and in speaking to the students one frequent comment that I found quite surprising was how many of them weren't there because they want to write books but rather, because they love books, and found creative writing classes more of an oppportunity to explore them than more theory-laden literature subjects.
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Old 3rd Oct 2006, 10:29   #9
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Default Re: A Nation Of Writers

According the the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, JK Rowling is to blame for the proliferation of wannabe writers as everyone apparently seems to think they can leap seamlessly from rags to riches.

They say that many of the larger publishers are now refusing to accept unsolicited manuscripts as they are fed up of being ankle deep in dross.
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Old 3rd Oct 2006, 11:28   #10
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Default Re: A Nation Of Writers

This is true. Virtually all children's publishers have closed their doors to unsolicited m/ss (there are one or two still open); and many adult publishers also have a closed door policy. Entrance only via an agent these days.
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