Saxon Bullock

Writer, Journalist, Copy-Editor and Proofreader

Tag: writing (page 1 of 12)

Taking a Break: Why I’m Not Doing Social Media

There was a window of about three years when Twitter genuinely seemed like an incredible, transformative force in my life. I’d connected with a number of people via Facebook, but that kind of thing always felt a bit ephemeral and distanced – Twitter was instantaneous, and immersive, like dunking your head in a bucket of conversation. It was addictive and compulsive, and between 2009–2012 it was wonderful. I made friends, I had unexpected conversations, and it genuinely felt like social media was making my life better.

Of course, things change. I had a rough patch in 2012, and social media played into that a little. It’s also sometimes rough when you’re trying to be a writer, and you’re following a lot of the writing/publishing world on Twitter, and every moment seems to deliver another example of someone doing better than you – getting a book deal, finishing a book, making lots of friends. Twitter started feeling more like being at a very crowded party where there’s plenty of conversations happening, but very few are actually happening to you.

Plus, the landscape of social media has changed a lot in the last few years. There are certain points where I’ll have things that I could say on social media, but I don’t because I don’t want the potential hassle. I’ve seen a lot of toxicity and weirdness, and most of the time I’ve ended up thinking that I simply don’t want it – I’d far rather be a little quieter and less controversial, and not be shouting my every opinion from the rooftops.

I trimmed down the list of people that I followed. Then I trimmed it some more. There were still points where it would make me unhappy – whether it was clicking on a depressing article being circulated on Facebook, or witnessing whatever outrage was being complained about on Twitter. And then, about two months ago, I reached a point where I said, “I’m taking a break.” I wasn’t going to make a big thing. I was just taking a break from Twitter and Facebook, and seeing how long I wanted to stay away.

It’s two months, and I’m not heading back yet. I’ve occasionally had a very quick check-in, especially over the last week – it’s rather like peering through a door at a room that you know is haunted by violent poltergeists – and I haven’t seen anything that’s made me want to go back. Especially in the wake of the EU Referendum, social media is just somewhere I don’t want to be right now. And that’s okay.

To the few genuine friends/acquaintances I’ve made on Twitter and Facebook – it’s nothing personal. This is just something I’ve got to do for my mental well-being. I’ll probably be back on them eventually – but right now, I’ve got enough to worry about in the world. Staying away from Twitter and Facebook is making my mental headspace just a little bit clearer, and making me happier. And right now, that’s all that matters.

After the Ball Is Over… (On Ending the Creative Writing MA)

It’s been a long time since I’ve done an update. In the meantime, a lot of things have happened. Including this:

dissertation

I ended up finishing my dissertation early, partly thanks to an incorrect assessment of how long it would take to bind (it turns out I was allowed to get it spiral-bound, which only takes ten minutes), partly because I had some proofreading work coming up and wanted a clear brain, and partly because sometimes you get to a point where you have to stop or go insane (or, alternatively, stop before you drive your partner insane). I’ll be handing it in on the 7th of September, and then that’s it. My MA Creative Writing course is done.

It’s a strange feeling being finished on the course, but I’m proud of the dissertation, and of how I’ve done. Especially in the last semester, I’ve gotten what I needed out of the course, and it’s given me a serious amount of knowledge to build on. There are plenty of articles out there saying why Creative Writing courses are a terrible idea, and I can’t say for certain that this kind of course would work well with everyone. But I was at a point where I needed to learn and gain some confidence, and it has really helped me. I know for certain that I’m a much better writer now than when I started. And much of that is down to the support I’ve had from Emma, especially when I was fretting about what to do for my second round of Fiction Workshop pieces and ultimate dissertation, and was convinced that I had to do something ‘with a bit more weight’, and she told me to not be so daft and submit Bradley & Hoyle, my romantic comedy fantasy adventure romp. I’m glad I did – it wasn’t necessarily the ‘typical’ thing to do on what’s a very well-respected course that’s strongly oriented towards literary fiction, but it got a lovely (and very helpful) response in the workshops, and it finally made me realise that I need to stop worrying about being taken seriously or doing the ‘right thing’, and just concentrate on entertaining people.

I’d never have come to that conclusion if I hadn’t gone ahead with Bradley & Hoyle, and concentrated on the kind of thing I really want to write. And that, in turn, has made me realise that that’s okay. There are things I’m good at, and there are things I’m not good at, and it’d be much more sensible for me to concentrate on my strengths than feeling somehow inferior just because I’m not writing something DARK and LITERATE and PROVOCATIVE. There are people out there who are great at that kind of thing. I’m not one of them. If you need me, I’ll be over in the corner having fun, blowing stuff up and coming up with the craziest ideas I can possibly manage. Hopefully it’s going to work out.

Future plans? Well, I went into the MA considering a PHd (to possibly go into teaching), but my struggles with longform literary essays taught me that maybe I don’t want to spend a large proportion of three years of my life doing that kind of thing. I am still bearing the teaching idea in mind, but at the moment it feels like the best thing I can do right now is work on getting myself published. There’s all sorts of stuff I can do and plans I can make which will ‘unlock’ if I can actually go from general all-purpose freelance writer/proofreader to ‘published novelist’. Even if the novel in question is blisteringly daft at times. There are no guarantees, of course, and I also know that getting published won’t solve all my problems and will also bring me an exciting collection of new problems, but that feels like the next step. I’ve got around 30,000 words of Bradley & Hoyle that feel pretty much finished – all I’ve got to now do is finish the rest of it.

(Before I started rewrites, it was weighing in at 135,000 words, which is far too long. I’m hoping to get it in at somewhere around 110,000. Which will still be the shortest piece of longform fiction I’ve ever managed…)

But in the meantime, I’m grateful for what the course has given me, and for the help I got from the fellow students in the fiction groups, and from the lecturers, especially Geoff Ryman (who was amazingly helpful with his feedback) and Jeanette Winterson (who is an amazing personality and one of the most scarily intelligent people I have ever met). It’s been a wild and fascinating ride. And now all I’ve got to do is sort out paying my Dad back for the money he lent me to actually do the course in the first place…

*gulp*

🙂

 

Update: (7/9/2015) – I wrote the above last week, but didn’t get around to posting it, mainly because despite my sunny conviction that the story was over, it wasn’t. I opened up the dissertation file last Friday to get the electronic submission out of the way… and discovered that the file was corrupted. It turns out that sometimes, using Track Changes on an MS Word document will completely nuke the formatting of the document and, in this case, left me with large stretches of the dissertation that was incomprehensible gibberish. Panic is too light a word for what happened next, and a difficult weekend followed – but it’s all finally been sorted, and after a lot of effort and struggle, the dissertation was submitted electronically late last night, and the physical hand-in will happen today on my return to Manchester. And once again, I have to say a massive thank you to Emma, who offered a tremendous amount of support and help throughout the weekend, and without her I wouldn’t have made it.

And at some point, I am actually going to get to rest…

 

 

New Frontiers (The Creative Writing M.A.: Half-Time News)

Time sometimes moves uncomfortably fast. It doesn't seem like that long ago that it was late August 2013, and I was getting myself ready for the adventure that was going to be my first year on my Creative Writing M.A. at Manchester University. And now, due to the way that being a part-time student works… I'm done until September.

Basically, full-time students do two semesters (with two course 'modules' per semester) followed by a dissertation, while people like me only have to do one 'module' per semester, and get the summer off. It does mean that because of how the course is divided up, I'm not actually doing any course-related creative writing work until January 2015, but otherwise I've got the summer to work like crazy on earning money and getting my current book project in better shape.

Things I have learned:

1: I love libraries – proper, full-on academic libraries that you can get lost in, and where you need to know exactly what you're looking for otherwise you'll never find it because BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS. If there's one thing I'm going to seriously miss once the course is over, it's this.

2: Reading a book a week is heavy going – at least, it is when they're heavyweight examples of Contemporary Fiction, and many of them weigh in at 500 pages. Anyone thinking “Ha, a book a week doesn't sound too much like hard work”, go and read GB84 by David Peace (500 pages of aggressively modernist fiction about the Miners' Strike) and then we'll talk, okay? There were plenty of points in Semester 2, where all I was doing was reading stuff for seminars, when I was regularly thanking God that I was doing the course part-time. If I'd been doing fiction workshops as well, my brain may have exploded.

3: I'm a better writer than I thought I was. (But then, considering how my brain works and how I often have a ridiculously low opinion of myself, that isn't exactly hard). But seriously, I feel like the course has genuinely helped me already – I've got some of my confidence back, and I now have a slightly better concept of how I want to proceed, and the kind of writer I am.

4: Academic essays do not agree with me. At all.

5: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is a ridiculously fascinating book. It was one of the novels I wrote my essay about, and it's like staring at one of those Magic Eye 3-D pictures – the more you look, the more you find. I want to read more David Mitchell, at a point when my To Be Read pile is not quite so damn terrifying, so that'll probably be sometime around June 2024.

6: I really mean it about the academic essays.

7: Jeanette Winterson is a fiercely intimidating person – so scarily smart it's a bit like staring at the sun, and a bit like being around one of those whip-smart school teachers in whose lessons you always behaved simply because you Did Not Cross Them. She did a selection of voluntary seminars that involved reading a whole load of stuff I'd never have touched otherwise, many of which left me feeling as if I was attempting to catch butterflies with a hopelessly small net, but it was still an experience that was more than worth having, even if I did spend most of them ferociously taking notes while thinking “Oh God, please don't ask me a question, please don't ask me a question…”

8: An off-shoot of the academic essay stuff – I'm not sure a PhD is for me. I was thinking seriously about it, and I've done lots of research and finding out of info, but despite the advantages, I'm not sure if it's something I want to spend three years of my life doing, especially since it ain't necessarily going to guarantee being able to teach at a University level anyhow, and there are different ways of playing that route. And, frankly, I've got loads of writing that I want to do, and I don't want to put it off for three years in order to do something that I'm really not sure I want to do.

There were lots of other things, obviously, and while I've got three months of summer to look forward to, it's going to pass in the blink of an eye. And then I'll be back for another year, heading for next Summer, and my dissertation. I've done my best to make the most of this course – and now, with one year to go, I want to do even better. Only time will tell…

 

 

The Proud Highway II (The University Interview, and After)

So. The University interview happened.

It was intense – 25 minutes that seemed to pass in a shot. And by the time I came out… I genuinely didn’t know if I’d done well or not. I was running through everything in my brain (as is my habit), trying to convince myself that I’d said enough stuff that seemed to have gone down well that I must have gotten something right. But, a combination of the aftermath of a fair amount of stress and the sudden realisation of the fact that I might not get on the course (plus the fact that it was probably going to take two weeks to hear back) left me in a bit of a state. My brain flicked back into low confidence mode, and things seemed rather difficult right then.

I went home. I had lunch. I watched the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer from S6 of the show. Then I checked my e-mail.

That was the point where I started saying “WHAT?!?” over and over, and I literally had to hand Emma my iPad in order to show what had happened, because I was too shocked to speak right then.

An unconditional offer. It had actually been sitting there for over an hour, and had been sent about half an hour after my interview ended. All that worrying didn’t need to happen. I’m on the course – for the next two years, from September 2013 to Summer 2015.

Of course, I’ve spent the afternoon in a state of shocked amazement, and a whole selection of lovely congratulations have come in from lots of people on Facebook and Twitter. Soon, I’ll have my head in gear and be able to fully appreciate what’s happened (and what I’ve got coming up in the next couple of years). For now, I’m incredibly grateful to my wonderful girlfriend Emma for suggesting this and nudging me in the direction of the course. And I’m exceedingly happy that I’ve got an exciting new direction to explore…

The Proud Highway (Jitters before a University Interview…)

Twenty one years ago. That’s the last time I experienced the strangeness that is a University interview. I can’t remember exactly how many I had – it’s either three or four, and all of them were odd in different ways. (My experience of Bradford – a seven-hour drive from Cornwall, only to find that the course I was interviewing for wasn’t exactly as the prospectus had advertised – is burnt into my brain, but for different reasons). For some reason, more out of habit than anything else, I still have the suit jacket I wore to that interview (complete with embarrassing post-Eighties shoulder-pads). One day, I really will give that thing away to charity.

Not today, though. Today I’m going for an interview at Manchester University, for a place on their MA course in Creative Writing. It’s an impressive course – I went to an open day last November, and that pretty much convinced me that this was something I need to do. I’m aiming to do the course part-time, for the next two years, as I’ve been thinking vaguely about the idea of doing some writing-related teaching for a while, and it’s time to actually do something about it.

Am I nervous? Of course I’m nervous. There’s plenty of confidence sloshing around inside my brain as well, but the nerves are jangling away, and they won’t stop until it’s all over and (aside from a bit of paperwork related to my application for funding) it’s out of my hands. I’m sure that once I sit down and start talking, everything’ll be fine – one thing I’ve never had is any problems talking about writing – and as long as I can give a good account of myself in the time that’s available, I’ll be happy.

The odd thing is that making this kind of deliberate choice isn’t something I’m used to. A big proportion of the big stuff that’s happened in my life – becoming a journalist, getting experience as a sub-editor, becoming a freelance manuscript reader, becoming a proofreader – were all down to simply being in the right place at the right time. People don’t always seem to believe me when I say that I stumbled into being a journalist by accident, but it’s true, and so it feels a bit odd to be in this situation and be wanting something as badly as this. Creative Writing teaching feels like something I can do – I just need help to get the occasional chaos in my brain pointing in the right direction. I’m hoping Manchester University is the right place to be doing this. And if it isn’t? Well, one thing I’ve learned over the years – no matter what happens, even if you don’t know it yet, there’s always a plan B…

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