Friday, 30 September 2016

Beginnings and a tutor

I've been working on activities in the first and second chapters of my coursework, which fittingly deal with beginnings.

I have had to write down my favourite beginning from a favourite novel, which I must post in the forum (when it opens tomorrow). I can't say anymore about that as I'm not supposed to tell fellow students where it's from. Then the next activity was to write three different openings to a short story or novel, using the following criteria, and something you may want to try yourself:


  • Making a startling or arresting statement of fact.
  • Offering invitiation to the exotic or particular world of your story.
  • Taking the reader in medias res.


It was an interesting exercise, but I'm not sure I've done what was needed, so I'm going to leave the extracts a day or two and look at them again to see if I can make them fit the brief better. On the other hand, one of the suggestions is that it's possible to overthink the opening of a novel or story and I can certainly see that might be a problem!

The third activity was to either write imaginary beginnings to one of three novel extracts we were shown. Or to write a beginning for a new story or novel, using approaches suggested by several well known authors, including Stephen King  in this interview in the Atlantic.

I've gone for the latter, as I didn't really relate to the extracts enough to feel enthused to write about them. Also, I feel that I want to be writing my own new stuff for the course, even if my heart once belonged to fanfiction.

As it happens, the extracts I've used in the second two exercises may become part of a longer narrative and the novel I eventually work on. I'm writing them as a means of testing the water for myself, to see if I can keep building on it and have something substantial to do by the time I begin my second year.

And I have now been allocated a tutor. I don't think it would be right to name him on this blog as I must respect his privacy. But it makes it all seem very real now!


Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Ready, Steady, Go!

And we're off! Well very nearly. The course starts properly on Saturday 1st October, but I've made a head start. I would have started sooner, but I've had problems with a recurring skin condition that has knocked me off my feet a bit. I'm now getting treatment for that and will see a dermatologist in mid-October (by which time it will probably be gone...).

I've decided to take a pragmatic approach to studying. What I intend to do is read my way through all the course materials and extra reading in as quick a time as possible, doing only the brief exercises. Then on the relevant forum-led weeks, I will go back and do the exercises to be posted on the forum. I hope this way to get quite a way ahead in case I need to take time out for my own health and my husband's.

I popped my head into the forum 'cafe' yesterday but have not yet posted, though I see that others have. I even recognised the name of a Facebook friend :-)  I haven't yet felt able to dip my toe in the water, because when I took a course some time ago, a fellow student told me 'Your enthusiasm used to get up my nose, but I don't mind you now.' (Gee, thanks!) I'm afraid I have found, even in adult education, that there is the tendency to label someone a 'swot' if they try to go that extra mile. Yet, aren't we all there to learn and improve?

Anyway, I'm going to have to tone myself down a bit before I attempt the forum, I think, and just be enthusiastic on my own time! Otherwise I'll be losing friends before I've managed to make them.

So far I have completed up to Block 1, Chapter 4, covering Beginnings, Character and Point of View. I'm enjoying reading extracts and tips from favourite authors (Stephen King and Sarah Waters) and discovering authors I haven't read before. I can see my to-be-read pile growing exponentially!

I must admit, I was afraid that the course materials would go over my head. The last time I studied at undergraduate level, for my BA, was around 2003, and they were all humanities and literature courses, as the OU didn't do writing courses back then. I have done some short courses since, but only one of those was writing related (Start Writing Fiction). What if I've been doing it wrong all these years? (And believe me there are enough 'experts' out there who will choose some bugbear of their own and turn it into a rule against doing it).  What if the course materials were all written in a high-handed fashion that excluded the plain speakers amongst us? I really should have trusted the Open University better. They've always been mature student-led and this course is no different.

It turns out that whilst I may not know every technical term in writing, I have sort of been doing it all without realising (I make no promises as to actual quality) and I'm finding the course materials very easy to follow at the moment. Phew!

They are also challenging me to look at the various techniques from a different perspective and I can only hope that will improve my future writing.

My biggest fear, and something I have heard from others who have taken an MA, is that doing the course would leave me unable to write at all. Well, so far, I'm still working on my current WIP (health allowing) and I find that the course materials I've read so far are informing that nicely. I'm also enthused with lots of ideas for the forum-led exercises and TMAs. I particularly like those that ask you to give a different slant on a known story. As I started my writing 'career' with fanfiction, it's almost like coming home.

So far. So good.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Are we there yet?

I do feel like a child sitting in the back seat of a car, excitedly asking 'Are we there yet?'

My excitement is exacerbated by the fact that all the materials and TMA (Tutor Marked Assignment) instructions are now available to download from the A802 site (you won't be able to see this site unless you're on the course, I'm afraid). I have spent all morning sending them to my Kindle for easy access whilst I'm working.

The TMAs look interesting too so I thought I would share them with you along with my preliminary thoughts on what I might write. (I will paraphrase here so as not to infringe on OU copyright).

TMA 01 - Fiction (my major): Due in by 24th November 2016, this TMA involves writing a 2500 word piece of creative writing, which can either be a short story or a chapter from a novel (the chapter has to be 'complete' and not finish mid-sentence). If from a novel, I have to include a 200 word summary of where I expect the novel to go. I also have to write a 500 word commentary on my writing process, and finally I have to give two links to my forum work; one where I post my work for critique and another where I critique someone else's work.

There are excluded genres, which mainly involve writing for children. All work has to be aimed at adults (I'm not sure if YA or New Adult could be included).

This assignment accounts for 30% of my overall mark.

TMA02 - Creative Non-Fiction (my secondary choice - I could have chosen either script writing or poetry): Due in by 2nd February 2017 (that seems a LONG way off, but as I've just seen them putting up Xmas decorations at my favourite breakfast place, perhaps it's not that far away!)

This TMA involves writing a complete 2000 word piece of creative non-fiction, in sub-genres such as memoir, life-writing, essay, autobiography, biography, or combinations thereof.

I also have to add a 1000 word commentary on my writing process and nominate a forum on which I wish to share my work.

Part four involves submitting a 300 word summary of my intended EMA (End of Module Assessment) in my main genre (Fiction).

This TMA constitutes 35% of my overall mark.

TMA03 - Fiction: Returning to my major, this TMA is due in by 30th March 2017. Once again it should involve 2500 words of either a short story or novel chapter, and again a 200 word summary of a larger project if applicable. The commentary on writing development should be 700 words.

Finally I have to submit 500 words from contribution to peer review discussion.

This TMA is worth 30% of my overal mark.

Fiction EMA: Apparently this is worth 50% of my overall marks (no, it doesn't add up for me either, but I assume the OU know what they're doing!). Due in by 25th May 2016 It involves writing either a complete story or part of a novel of no more than 4000 words and a 1000 word commentary on what I presume I'll be working on in Year 2.

So whilst I've been eagerly jotting down novel ideas, I don't actually need them until March 2017 at the latest and I am considering whether it is best to write a couple of short stories for TMAs 1 & 2, and then develop a novel idea later. I could do it by using characters from my intended novel, to try them out in a stand alone story. As I haven't decided what my intended novel is going to be yet, that could prove difficult.

I do think that once I get started on the course, doing the exercises, ideas will come to me. But I need to choose a final project that is going to keep me interested as, in the words of the EMA instructions, it's something I'm going to be working on for a long time and will constitute most, if not all, of the work for my second year.

It does help, knowing I've got a few months to decide, and knowing me it will be very much a last minute thing, just as it is with NaNoWriMo most years!