Friday, 31 July 2015

14 Tips for Studying a Creative Writing Degree

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As a creative graduate, I feel as if it's my duty to pass on 
all of my worldly knowledge on the subject of surviving a creative degree to any prospective students that wish to follow in my footsteps. 

14 tips for studying a creative writing degree

Read as much as you can! Read from your reading list. Read from your own personal library. The worlds that you will temporarily reside in, and the characters that you will meet, will make your writing stronger and they may also go on to be featured within your future critical commentaries. Prospective students: your degree will involve a lot of reading so it's good to get into a healthy routine prior to your studies but don't worry about reading every classic or high brow book ever written! 

freewrite as often as you can
Freewriting, the art of picking up a writing utensil and putting words on the paper without too much thought at all, will encourage you to exercise your imagination and that'll help you immensely when it comes to assignment time. It's best to try and make writing part of your daily routine so keep a notebook with you for when you have a spare ten minutes or so throughout the day. You don't have to write anything too enlightening so don't put too much pressure on yourself! 

University can be a pretty daunting experience but, in my experience, the fear is lessened when you learn to communicate with others. Establish conversations with your classmates where you can and hey, who knows, those conversations could lead to everlasting friendships! I was lucky that I found best friends in two of my course mates and could therefore pick their brains about novels and criticism and other riveting things. 

Don't be afraid to wrack your lecturers brains too if you're struggling at all! Lastly, engage in class discussions. It may seem scary to raise your voice at first but those sessions are a breeding ground for ideas that will hopefully go on to form the backbone of your papers. 

don't be afraid of workshopping
Workshops are terrifying. There's no doubt about it. Handing a piece of your beloved creative work to your peers for review will probably make you feel a bit sick. However, workshops can also be incredibly useful and are therefore well worth attending. Give your peers honest yet respectful pointers and they'll do the same for you. Even if you disagree with them, you can discuss their feedback in your critical commentary and elaborate on how the process affected your work. 

take proper breaks 
Try and work effectively. If you're flagging, take a break. If you've been writing for a long period of time, take a break. Remove yourself entirely from the workspace and do something else. During my first couple of years, I would make the mistake of trying to push through a malaise and it actually made me more unproductive. Allowing myself to go out and about and take time away from my projects helped me to re-focus my ideas.

write terribly  
One of the things that often affects my creativity is the fact that I want to put pen to paper and for it to be good-to-go without the need for scribbling out. Unfortunately, unless you're some sort of genius, that rarely happens. 

Allow yourself to write 'shitty first drafts'. Write terribly and then edit thoroughly. Even if you're just writing gibberish, it'll get you writing and your scribbled ideas will hopefully be something that you can build upon. 

don't over-edit
That said, don't over-edit. Don't make things hard for yourself. Finish your piece, proofread it a few times, maybe get someone else to cast their eyes over it too but then hand it in. Try not to over-edit your work because you may end up re-writing parts that deserved to stay in. 

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designate workspaces 
Create a workspace at home that is spacious, comfortable and airy. In my third year, I bought a £5 table from Ikea and set it up by a bay window that offered lots of light and encouraged me to work efficiently. It gave me enough space to spread my notes and books out without being too overwhelming and I could clear it all away at the end of the day. It's also really useful to designate a workspace at the university, whether that's a corner of the library or the fourth computer in on the first floor of the arts building. I found that routine spaces really helped me to get into the zone and added an extra bit of structure to my day. Try not to get too territorial when some random sits in your seat though...

always make at least a little bit of effort
I'm not about to pretend that I was an A* student that always read all of the books in time for classes because I most certainly wasn't. To be honest, very few people are. If you don't think you have enough time to finish a book before class, read as much of it as you can, engage with criticism relating to the book and if all else fails watch an adaptation or browse quotes & summaries online. I know that my lecturers would kill me for offering that advice but sometimes the work load is ridiculous and you're only one person! Similarly, try and go to as many classes as possible. If you can't get there, email your lecturer an apology and unearth notes on what you missed from fellow students. 

try & work ahead 
Sometimes it's impossible to work ahead, but if you've got some free time and a list of weekly exercises at your disposal why not start brainstorming some ideas? If you've seen your assignment requirements, start making notes and working out where you wish to go with those particular projects. At the very least, be mindful of your deadlines and start projects a few weeks in advance. It'll give you more time to plan and work on your piece at sentence level. 

You don't exactly have to be taking tea with Margaret Atwood of a weekend but it's helpful to keep up with the literary world in some shape or form. Add lots of publishers and notable literary figures on Twitter and check out articles on books. Another great way to involve yourself is to keep up with the online bookish community via booktube and blogs such as this glorious one. That's right kids, reading Vivatramp will get you a degree. 

Weekly assignments are usually really diverse and, even though I'd have never admit it at the time, they're actually quite fun! They're determined by your modules, of course, but mine concerned anything from writing a speechless screenplay to penning an ekphrastic poem about a piece of art. Some of the pieces born out of these assignments will eventually make their way into your final portfolio so keep up with them and you'll thank yourself when it comes to hand in time! 

Notes and recordings saved my weirdly flat arse more times than I can remember during my studies! If you struggle to remember things in detail like myself, it's a good idea to record class time and meetings to listen back to at a later date. And, of course, try and make your notes as thorough as possible. There's nothing worse than flipping through pages of nonsensical words when you've got a looming deadline. Whilst I'm talking about paper trails, purchase a diary and a weekly desk planner. They will save you when you can't remember what  room you're meant to be in despite living the same routine for weeks and weeks on end. 

Use the three or so years to really hone your writing style and work out where your creative interest lies. Over the course of my degree, I realised that I quite liked writing experimental fiction and this is something that I worked particularly hard on during my last year. In my experience, it's important to be confident and stay true to your style. With a creative degree, it's always tempting to manipulate your style to suit particular lecturers but I decided to really go for it during my last few months and create work that I both enjoyed and was incredibly proud of. Some of my lecturers loved it and my experimental dissertation got me a first. One of my lecturers, however, didn't particularly like my style and suggested that I was 'way too surreal' for most. In retrospect, I'm really proud of myself for working on my craft and working out what sort of writing I'm passionate about and put it this way...I haven't lost any sleep over that particular lecturer's comments. 

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Is there anything else you would add or is there anything else you would like me to cover r:e university and studying a creative degree? Check out my tips for how to survive university with a long term illness before you go. 

If you'd like to scroll through all of my advice posts then you can do so.


Sunday, 19 July 2015

Book Reviews feat. Alice Walker

My miniature (and lets face it somewhat vague) book reviews are back!  

Book reviews are usually monthly over here at Vivatramp. However, due to a pretty hectic year full of responsibilities and university commitments, my updates and reading in general both fell by the wayside. Fortunately, university is now over and I have more time on my hands to devote to books so I thought it was about time that I gave you a little round up of the reads I've experienced so far this year. I've split these reviews into two posts to make it less obvious that I have lost the ability to write decent book reviews for public consumption. If you've read any of these books, let me know in the comments because I'd love to discuss them further. 

vivatramp book blog once alice walker book review

1. once by alice walker (1976) 

FINISHED: 03/1/15 | ISBN: 0704340305 PAGES: 96

I thought The Color Purple was an absolutely incredible novel so I guess it was only a matter of time before I branched out and read other things by Walker. Interestingly, I had no idea that  she also wrote poetry until I stumbled across this collection, which is kind of worrying because I wrote a paper on her a few years ago. Eek...

I sailed through this collection in an afternoon, and I really enjoyed my reading experience. Walker writes with conviction and each poem takes you to another corner of her world, whether that's an afternoon in East Africa or in the college halls during her senior year. I had great fun performing this poetry aloud and that's a testament to her craft. Read it if you're a fan of Walker.


raymond carver would you please be quiet please book review uk book lifestyle blog

2. will you please be quiet, please? by raymond carver (1976) 

FINISHED: 29/1/15 | ISBN: 0679735690 PAGES: 251

I have a soft spot for Carver, which is weird because he's not exactly the sort of person that I'd expect myself to endure let alone take a shine to. 

This was his first collection of short stories and, whilst it is not as accomplished as his later works, I really enjoyed reading it. Carver writes ordinary people, often in very ordinary situations, but he does so in a way that just absolutely fascinates me. His writing is so sparse despite him tackling subjects that are so dense and I really enjoy that juxtaposition as a reader. Carver's ability to write short stories is a billion times better than my ability to review him, you'll be glad to know. 

I wouldn't really recommend Carver n00bs starting with this collection, simply because he has written better stories, but I would definitely recommend reading it post-What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, because there are still some highlights. I'm going to read everything he has written and I am probably going to enjoy it. 


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3. just kids by patti smith (2010)  

FINISHED: 26/2/15 | ISBN: 0060936223 PAGES: 320
The legendary American artist offers a never-before-seen glimpse of her remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late sixties and seventies. 

This is one of my favourite books of all time and I know that I am going to struggle to finds words good enough to do this memoir justice so I'm just going to brain fart a paragraph out. You have been warned! 

My copy is littered with pencil scratches underlining words and phrases that I desperately want to commit to memory, even though I know that is impossible and this book is going to warrant a million re-readings before I can truly capture it in its entirety. Smith writes with ease, seamlessly weaving musings on art and literature with numerous anecdotes of trauma and hardship and she does so with a delicacy that weirdly made me feel comforted throughout. I always wondered whether readers were ever really 'captivated', always thinking that it felt a little overstated a word to use. Bullshit. Patti captivated me from the first page to the last. Just Kids was an incredible read that I had difficulty leaving simply because I didn't feel ready to leave her world just yet, however grimey or unsafe or upsetting it was at times. 

Read this a billion times over and then read it a billion times more. 


saga brian k vaughan book haul graphic novel book review vivatramp bee uk lifestyle book blog

4. saga volume 1 by brian k. vaughan & fiona staples (2012)  

FINISHED: 06/03/15 | ISBN: 1607066017  PAGES: 160
When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe. 

And now to gush over my second favourite discovery of the year: Saga. 

Everyone had been discussing Saga for years but I put the blinkers on and chose to ignore it thinking it was something that wouldn't interest me, maybe, or perhaps be a bit too fantastical for my taste. I was a huge idiot. I loved everything about this volume, from the beautiful artwork to the fact that it felt like I was being welcomed with open arms into a world that was so enormous and so corrupt and so strange that I had to rush out and buy the next volume as soon as I had closed the final page of this one. I enjoyed getting to know Alana and Marko, the two main characters, and I was totally rooting for them from the first page (which, interestingly, involves childbirth). 

If you like graphic novels but you haven't read Saga, read it. If you don't like graphic novels, read it. If you have no opinion on graphic novels, read it. 


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5. outcast by kirkman & azceta  (2015)

FINISHED: 06/03/15 | ISBN: 1632150530 PAGES: 152
Kyle Barnes has been plagued by demonic possession all his life and now he needs answers. Unfortunately, what he uncovers along the way could bring about the end of life on Earth as we know it. 

I stumbled across this graphic novel knowing very little about the story but was instantly swayed by Kirkman's (of The Walking Dead series fame) name on the front and the beautiful cover design.

The Outcast is true to its genre in that the dark and unsettling plot is complemented by equally brooding artwork. As is typical of Kirkman's work, or at least the very little that I have read of it, this was an incredibly fast paced introduction to the characters and, as such, it covers a hell of a lot in a short space of time. Of course, this can be either a pro or a con depending on the reader. I think he just got away with it. 

This volume was evocative and left me with lots of questions that I want answers to; however, I will admit to the fact that I can't really remember much of what went on in it as I sit here 4 months down the line. That is an issue that I have with a lot of things though, so it's probably not a reflection on the plot! Give it a go if it piques your interest! 


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FINISHED: 06/03/15 | ISBN: 1632150190 PAGES: 144

This is where I start to wish that I had written down some coherent notes about each of the Saga volumes instead of just scrawling 'OMG THIS SERIES IS JUST SO GREAT!!!' in my notebook. What I do remember liking about this volume, however, is the development of characters both familiar and new. 

 It's very rare that I give a book 5 stars. It's very rare that I then give its follow up 5 stars. Read this series, guys.  

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FINISHED: 07/03/15 | ISBN: 1632150190 PAGES: 144
Everyone 90 years or so, twelve gods incarnate in the bodies of the young. They are charismatic and brilliant. They stand before crowds, speak in tongues, and send them into rapture. They're rumored to perform secretive miracles. They saw people's lives, either metaphorically or literally. They are loved. They are hated. They are brilliant. Within two years, they're dead. 

Uhhh. Oh dear. 

The artwork was so promising. So so promising! There were panels that I would quite happily wallpaper my walls with and the portraits...oh, the portraits! I also liked the bi and trans visibility present in this volume. Unfortunately, the story, for me, was really really weak and if I'm honest a little confusing! I didn't warm to any of the characters and, as such, I didn't enjoy my reading experience. I could sort of see what they were going for tone-wise but it just wasn't my bag. 

Save your money. Buy Saga.


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FINISHED: 14/03/15 | ISBN: 1782115080 PAGES: 266
In the western world the suicide rate is highest amongst men under the age of 35. Matt Haig could've added to that statistic when, aged 24, he found himself starting at a cliff edge about to jump off. This is the story of why he didn't, how he recovered and learned to live with anxiety and depression. It's also an upbeat, joyous and very funny exploration of how to live better, love better, read better and feel more. 

As someone with depression and anxiety, I was intrigued by this book and I ordered it as soon as I could (especially once it had been noted that I make a brief and typo-full cameo in it!). 

If you struggle with mental health issues, you'll know how sometimes it can take all of your words from you, making it impossible to share your experience even if you wanted to. I guess that is the one thing I admired about this book: the way Haig managed to share his experience following a breakdown aged 24. This book may be quite interesting to those that struggle to comprehend depression and anxiety, and I'm sure it'll go some way to comfort sufferers particularly as it's told through short manageable chapters. However, I just left it feeling a bit meh. I don't know. I guess we all have our own individual experiences and our own ways of approaching and dealing with things. I just felt that some of the pages were a little too twee and, dare I say it, a little too tacky inspirational sign for me. Eek. That's just my personal opinion. 

Anyway, I respect people for sharing their stories and experiences in ways that they feel comfortable so I respect him for writing this book. I also respect it for the conversations that I'm sure it has started between loved ones. However, I guess it just wasn't for me at this stage of my life and my illness.


If you'd like to scroll through all of my book blog posts then you can. Or, alternatively, you could just flick through my book reviews instead.


Saturday, 11 July 2015

How To Write Short Stories

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Towards the end of last year, I fell in love with short stories and ever since then I have wanted to tell anyone and everyone to sit down and read and write them! Whilst their brevity may suggest to some that they're less powerful than their counterparts, I am here to tell you that that's a misconception. Look at me, spreading the good word! Whilst I'm not exactly Chekhov, I do write short stories from time to time and I have also passed a module on the very subject therefore I feel that I'm in a position to start spouting advice about writing them to a relatively high standard. Obviously. Here's a selection of tips that I've put together to get you started but remember: it's important to take them with a pinch of salt, make your own creative decisions and have faith in what you're writing. Developing your style and extensive editing sessions are all part of the process and whilst I have picked up the following bits of advice along the way I don't want anyone to feel overwhelmed.

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Everyone deserves to write a 'shitty first draft'. So, get started and don't drown yourself in doubt. 

read lots of great short stories & mimic them
Read a broad range of stories and work out what you like about them. Take your pick from the Carvers, Julys, Hemingways and California Coopers of the world. Once you've found a story that interests you, think about re-writing it in your own style. For example, I re-wrote July's 'Man on the Stairs' with a new protagonist who, if anything, welcomed the stranger on her landing. This is a good way of developing a writing style whilst also discovering plenty of others.


It's a good idea to keep a page of your journal dedicated to creative prompts, be it full sentences or just individual words. These prompts can be particularly useful if you're struggling to get started and they can also work really well as daily writing exercises to get you into the hang of writing on a frequent basis.  

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devote time to crafting a first sentence 
The elusive first sentence can make or break a story. It doesn't necessarily have to be ground breaking, or wordy or lengthy, it just has to introduce characters or ideas that your readers want to see more of/from. Think about first sentences that you've read and enjoyed and work from there. What best represents your story to your reader?

I can't remember who said it, and I'm most definitely paraphrasing here, but someone once said that every sentence you write should be 'troubled into existence'. What the hell does that mean? It means you should look at your writing as a whole, sure, but also take the time to look at it sentence by sentence and ask what each is doing for the piece. Is there a sentence that isn't really offering anything? Is there a word choice that doesn't quite work? Scratch it. Your story will be better for it. 

find a new way of saying things 
It seems silly, really, but one of the best things I learnt whilst studying short stories was to embrace my inner-Ezra Pound as it were and learn to 'make it new' by finding a new way to say things. Avoid clich├ęs. Look at how you're describing things - have people seen that before? I honestly feel like a 'new' writer ever since thinking about the way I choose to present things. 

how to write short stories

tone it down!
Short stories work best when they're toned down. It's best to not rely too heavily on adverbs or adjectives or sentiment. Preening your word choices will help. If you're looking for a second opinion, check out Hemingway App online. It helps to keep your writing clear and concise. 

The best short stories are those that are oblique. Be playful. Be brave. See how much you feel comfortable ommitting. Suspend your readers belief and they will thank you for it. Of course, there is a risk that you'll share too little so take it easy to begin with! 

think about the ending...
One of my favourite things about short stories is the ways in which they end. They don't tie themselves up too neatly. The ending should transform or amplify what has come before it, but it shouldn't feel contrived. And for the love of God, don't end with it all being a dream or with the protagonist dying. Your reader will throw your story across the room. 

creative writing

The majority of this advice is obvious, really, but sometimes the creative process can make you lose sight of the little things. Short stories can be incredibly rewarding to both read and write and I'd encourage everyone to give them a go, even if you don't consider yourself to be a seasoned writer. I'm now itching to write a new one. Have you read any great short stories? 

If you'd like to scroll through all of my advice posts then you can do so.


Friday, 10 July 2015

Wreck This Journal 6

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After nearly a year (how?!) away from my Wreck This Journal, I sat down the other week and devoted some time to finishing off some more pages. Interestingly, my efforts were incredibly free form and childish. Make of that what you will and take time out to work on your own journal / equivalent activity for half an hour or so. 

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[+] make a paper chain 

I find that, sometimes, the best and most freeing type of creativity is inspired by embracing my childhood creative identity which, for me, comes in the form of sitting down quietly with fistfuls of colouring pencils. There's something to be said for colouring outside of the lines, I'm telling you. I feel like everyone seems a bit lost at the moment, whether that's down to mercury and its sodding retrograde, or whether we are all feeling a mid-year malaise, but everyone (or at least those of us in the blogging world) seems a bit...unsure. I always find that it's best to just go straight back to basics when I'm feeling that way, before working my way back up to a human being that has some idea of what they're actually doing.  

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[+] introduction page 

I'm at a stage in life where I don't really know what I'm doing, at least not career-wise. I want to write and share things that I'm passionate about but I know my body isn't capable of holding down a 'normal' travel-to-work-and-actually-look-as-if-we-aren't-in-pain-all-day sort of thing. I'm hoping to go freelance, but then I have no idea how to actually go about that and it's going to take time to work it all out. If you have any awesome resources / websites to share on the subject of freelancing / freelance writing, please let me know. I think things would be easier to plan if I didn't feel too scared to think about the future. I can never guarantee my health and wellbeing, and that makes me feel less capable. It shouldn't do but it does.  

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[+] tear out & crumple 

I always find that people are scared of creativity, which is strange because as kids I'm pretty sure that's what we live for. I get comments on these posts about how people would love to do something similar but they aren't skilled enough or whatever. The truth is, no one is really fucking good at everything. I, for one, know I am not great when it comes to art but who cares? Why do we feel we have to be good at things in order to do them? On second thoughts, that's not applicable to everything. I just try to remind myself that creativity doesn't have to be groundbreaking or award winning or even remotely 'good'. It just is. It just happens. 

 If you'd like to spend some time rifling through my previous Wreck This Journal posts, please feel free to do so. 


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