Another year has almost gone and it is the time when many of us review how we spent our 12 months. As mentioned last week, I reassess my writing aims and set down what I think I would like to achieve in the next year.
Nothing is set in stone. It was being open to new forms of writing that led me to try flash fiction. I hope in the next year to build on my successes here but if I spot a writing competition that seems to be an interesting challenge, I may give it a go.
I ask myself what have I got to lose? As long as the competition is genuine, the answer is little. I may discover a new form of writing I like (as I did with flash fiction) and at least I have the satisfaction of knowing I’ve tried something different.
ADDING TO YOUR WRITING SKILLS
It is never a bad idea to keep your writing “fresh” by trying different things. You inevitably focus on the main things you have a flair for but this approach may mean you end up adding some useful strings to your writing “bow”. It can also be a means of discovering exactly what it is you do have a flair for!
If there is one thing I have learnt, it is just because something is unsuccessful now, that’s no reason to give up on it. You may need to amend what you have produced (you almost certainly will) but what doesn’t find a home now may find one later. You learn to look for the opportunities and give it your best shot – and that doesn’t just apply to creative writing!
A quick trawl on the internet shows a wealth of articles on personal reviews. Many of these are company based to help employers write their employee reviews. There are many more questions not listed here but these were the ones that struck me as illuminating.
What went well?
What did not go so well?
What are my strengths?
What are my weaknesses?
What three things would I gain the most benefit from improving?
What one event, big or small, are you going to tell your grandchildren about? (Actually having grandchildren is not crucial at this point!).
If someone wrote a book about your life, what kind of genre would it be? A comedy, love story, drama, film noir or something else? (I was bound to love this question!).
What was the funniest moment of your year, one that still makes it hard not to burst out laughing when you think about it? (It is aways great to recall funny moments especially if the year has been difficult).
What one thing would you do differently and why?
What activities made you lose track of time?
USING REVIEW QUESTIONS AS A CREATIVE WRITING EXERCISE
The lovely thing about questions like this, from a writing viewpoint, is you can use these to help you develop your characters. When I write a story, I don’t know every little detail about my characters. I just know enough to get started and then the characters develop as I write.
However, a useful way to get started at all is to take Character A, B, C etc and ask questions such as the ones above. For example: let’s say Character A is a middle aged woman who owns a dog (you will realise at once I am sticking to the old saying write about what you know here given I AM a middle aged woman who owns a dog!). How could I develop her enough to write an interesting story?
What went well for Character A?
She got away with an armed robbery. (That should immediately trigger interest! I’m not basing this on fact incidentally!).
What did not go so well for Character A?
Her dog was ill. She needed money for vet bills. (That should give you a good motive for Character A).
What are Character A’s strengths?
She plans everything to the nth degree and doesn’t allow bad luck etc to throw her off a course she’s determined to follow. (Here you can begin to see how she might succeed. Personal qualities can make a huge difference as to results!).
What are Character A’s weaknesses?
She is a technophobe and can easily be taken in by those who say they can help her overcome this! (Here she could seriously underestimate how technology is used by banks etc to increase security and someone could give her the wrong information, which could lead to her downfall. Now I’ve established she’s got away with her crime, or think she has at least at this point, so she must have overcome this weakness, which in turn means she is aware of it. So how did she overcome it? Answering all of this will lead to a strong storyline.).
I’m not going to go through all the other questions but you should see already that there is a story outline developing (and yes I probably will follow it up!). Answering these kind of personal review questions then is also an excellent creative writing exercise.
Can you apply them to non-fiction as well? I think so. You just need to treat Character A as whoever it is you are writing about. For example, if Character A was Richard III, you can list what you think his strengths and weaknesses are and that will influence how you approach the piece you are going to write. Equally you could use a historical event almost as a character. For example Character B could be Bosworth Field. Here you would look at the strengths and weaknesses of it as a battle location (and how it affected the result).
If nothing else, answering questions like this will clarify your thoughts before you commit to writing a full-length piece or book (fiction or non-fiction), and can save you a great deal of time later.
REVIEWING YOUR OWN WRITING
As for reviewing your own writing, I think this should consist of asking:-
Did you have anything published in print or on-line this year? If not, are you working towards this?
What is the most helpful criticism of your work you’ve received this year?
Did you enter any writing competitions? How did you do?
What progress do you think you have made with your writing?
What would you like to achieve in the next 12 months?
Have you engaged with other writers? (This is good fun, we all learn from one another and writers will flag up scams aimed at others new to the profession.).
Do you think writing talks/courses would be useful to you? If so which ones?
What questions would you ask yourself and why? Have you found personal reviews useful?
I’ll finish by wishing you all the very best for 2018. I hope it is as positive a year as possible and if it leads to more creativity, even better! I remain convinced creativity, whether it is in writing, music, sport, gardening or what have you, is a vital part of our mental and physical well being. Creativity stretches us and, when we are stretched, we develop, the way I believe we are meant to do.
Happy New Year!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.