Sunday, 6 November 2011

In case you were wondering, I'm still doing the MA.

It was a few weeks ago when I blogged about the challenge of online seminars. I was, initially, frantic - how would I ever keep up with the waterfall of ideas. I was the old lady in the corner, thinking, while everyone else was typing away throwing ideas and witticisms into the ether.

No, I haven't given up. And I'm even beginning to learn. But it's been a challenge.

The first task was to give myself permission to 'say' nothing. So I only contribute to seminars if I have something I really need to say. That, at least, took care of the anxiety.

So, I'm surviving. But if I'm simply surviving, then there is little point to doing an MA. I want to learn. And I am. Though rarely in the seminar itself. My learning takes place afterwards, when I can wallow in thinking time, unravel the ideas that have swum around the internet-seminar for the past couple of hours. Constructs such as 'narrative tension' begin to make more sense when I've let them swim in my head for a while. I begin to see that setting can act as a container for a story, and is not simply the backcloth. (Frey, in his book 'How to Write a Damn Good Novel' talks about setting as a crucible. I like that idea; I want to live with it for a while and see how I can use it in my writing.)

Solitary thinking can be so productive. For a start, when having a conversation with myself I am always right. New ideas pop up from somewhere and I can claim them all for myself. New ideas, like feathers, float about somehow, until (sometimes) the sink into something coherent. And then I can risk feeling smug that I am so clever, what with my originality verbal dexterity.

You're right. Ideas need airing in company. And our seminars, with their flood of comments, are no place for unpicking complications, or even delving into ideas in any depth. I could use the course forum; but no-one else uses in this way, and I'm not brave enough to be the first to put my head above the internet parapet.

So how can I possibly know if my thoughts are original, or useful, or even right? I can't, of course, though I would argue that there are few rights and wrongs in writing. But the reading and talking has opened up different ways of looking at things. And that has to be a start, surely?

And you - do you have your best ideas when you are on your own, or do they grow in discussion with other people?


  1. i do that too - after a conversation and in solitude, teasing out the meaning behind other people's words or theories or beliefs, some part of my brain translates the ones it an use until i've understood and reframed them for easier understanding.

  2. Wrath of god - thank you; great to know I'm not the only one who sorts things out in my solitary head.

  3. I think it's great that you're using the seminars in a way that works for you. It reminds me of my old lectures. I used to write everything down that was said, whether I understood it or not, and then figure it all out later :-)

  4. Ah Sarah - this reminds me of a motto scrawled on a toilet wall of my old uni - the definition of a lecture: words that pass from the notes of the tutor to those of a student without passing through the mind of either!

  5. Sounds like my university note taking: I'd scribble frantically, fearful I'd miss a word of a lecture - and then often not return to my notes for weeks after. But then don't listen to me, I look back and think I was quite dreadful at the art of studying, even though I put in the hours, and can't quite understand how I got any qualifications at all!
    As for the solitary thinking, oh yes! My best ideas come when I'm running. In fact, if I'm stuck, my first reaction is to put on my trainers and get out there into the writing world in my head.I do think the greater part of being able to learn is fathoming out what works best for you. Best of luck Jo!