I am working my way through this amazing book called The five-minute writer by Margaret Geraghty. It’s essentially a book full of writing exercises to teach you about characterisation, plotting, editing, seeing the world differently and interpreting it in a much more readable way. The exercises are brilliant.
This one exercise today has really got me thinking hard but the ethos behind it is something I really try to adhere to everyday. Basically, it’s an exercise about turning a negative into a positive. Sometimes life doesn’t quite work out as you had fantasised about in your head yet when that happens sometimes you just have to get on with it and make the best of it. More importantly though, when you do this, it can change your path in life and it can make you the person you are today.
Here are the exercise questions that we are asked to try to write about.
1. Did you once fail an important exam?
2. Did you lose money that you never got back?
3. Are there people or situations in your life that you felt hindered your development?
4. Are you angry about something that happened and which is now too late to put right?
5. Do you feel that if only……everything would have been different and better?
6. What did you lack as a child? What dreams have been crushed and what ambitions have been thwarted?
Thought-provoking aren’t they?
No.5 particularly hits a nerve with me. One of the first things that immediately sprang into my mind that has always plagued me with sadness is my University days. I went to University slightly later than normal, aged 24. After school, I went to college to re-take some exams then I just went to work as a Secretary and a PA, working all over London and Sussex (my two hometowns) in places like The Tower of London, radio stations, the Government, magazines etc and I met some fascinating characters. However, out of boredom with being a PA in London, I soon realised that if I really wanted to be a writer then I would need to take it seriously so I enrolled onto a BA (Hons) English Literature with creative writing degree course. My decision was met with yin and yang by my divorced parents. My mother was totally supportive and proud. My father thought it was preposterous that I was going to University at the age of 24, that I should have gone when I was 18 and that it was a total waste of my time. I should be aiming for a job in Fleet Street as a journalist instead of “pissing about” reading Jane Eyre all day. This wasn’t an unusual parenting style from my father but that’s a whole different blog! He never came to visit me at University, nor did he support. He left me to it get on with it.
It was as if the Universe was on my side though. For my first interview at Sheffield Hallam University, I had to take along some examples of my writing. The tutor who interviewed me was wonderful. He and I clicked instantly talking about writing and poetry animatedly and having glanced at my work he there and then suggested I work for the University newspaper and that he would put a good word in for me. I was shocked to the core. This was the most amazing show of commendation and recognition I had ever had for my writing since I was at school when my teacher often read my work out to the class. More importantly, he basically unofficially said “you have a place here” when usually you have to wait for the acceptance letter to fall on your doormat. I felt like literally tap dancing out of his office and across the freshly mowed campus grass! Tragically, he died soon after from a heart attack and I was so upset as was the whole University. He was deeply missed. RIP Dave x
The second incident relating to question no.5 above that makes me sit and remember forlornly is this. While at this same University, I completed a film studies module as part of the creative writing degree. I absolutely loved it. Writing a film script is so incredibly different to writing a story or a poem and it really melted my brain! We had an amazing tutor called Richard Hines who was a filmmaker. We soon learnt he was the brother to Barry Hines who wrote the famous British film, ‘Kes” directed by the famous Ken Loach, some of you may have heard of both men. It was enough that Richard was our tutor. I was so proud and grateful for the expertise and guidance he gave us in those lessons and I really worked hard for his approval.
Working hard for his approval paid off. We would be graduating soon after the summer holidays and then we were free from University life. In one of the final film seminars before summer, Richard pulled me aside afterwards and I will never forget this for as long as I live. I had written a film script in these seminars and Richard considered my film script to be so good that he pulled me aside and instructed me to work on it over the summer. He then wanted me to send him my finished script as he wanted to send it to his brother Barry. Richard thought Barry would love to turn my script into a film. Again, this was another moment I nearly died in shock. What an accolade! I remember telling my film studies friends this news as soon as I came out of the seminar room. Some of them were waiting for me in the nearby campus coffee shop. A shriek of happiness suddenly erupted in the cold, echoing room amidst the sloshes and whooshes of hot drinks being made.
However, I made a really good friend in that class and we used to work together and help each other write. I remember so vividly that while some of the others were shrieking with joy at my news, this friend of mine forced a smile out of her and just said “wow”.
From that moment we were never friends again. My calls went unanswered and she avoided me at the graduation ceremony. I was really sad about that. I wanted her of all people to be happy for me the most.
So what happened to these two events in my University life? well…..I pissed them up against the wall. So to speak.
I was offered the job as a reporter for the University newspaper when I started my course and I turned it down. I had never done any reporting in my life but more to the point, my writing has been constantly criticised by my father as I was growing up. He loved my stories admittedly but he knew best. I should write like this. I should read this book or nothing at all. I should write about this and not that. He wasn’t a writer, he was a businessman in a creative field and he was infamous for his “do as I say” attitude. In fact, it was probably his attitude that made him such an incredible businessman and he was very successful during his lifetime. The only time my father ever really showed me any real praise and pride was when I eventually got my first poems published while I was at University. They were published into a book of compilations and he suddenly radiated pride and showed everyone he knew despite previously telling these same friends and colleagues that his daughter was wasting her time being at University and I would never be a famous writer. His negativity has echoed inside me for years and years though and I believed what he said: that I would never be a writer and that I wasn’t good enough. So I turned down the reporter role because not only was I terrified of the unknown responsibility, I also believed I wasn’t good enough for the role and would be laughed out of the office by the other more talented writers on the team. This regret stays with me to this day.
As far as the film script goes. Again, for the same reasons I dismissed it. After we finished University for the summer, we all went our separate ways, holidays, back home etc and I just put re-writing my script to the bottom of my priorities. I kept thinking back to what Richard, my tutor, had told me but this little voice inside my head just kept saying “he didn’t mean it. He was just flattering you” and I lost the bottle to re-write the script and send it to him. This regret sickens me. What could have been I often wonder?
Thus, in answer to question No.5 above – yes, I do feel that “if only” things could have been different and better had I have grasped these opportunities?
So now you know the history behind my answer to question no.5 I’d like to address the second part of this writing exercise: Turning a negative into a positive.
I found this part SO hard to do. I have been wracking my brains. Out of every negative comes a positive, I firmly believe that. Just look at your life and see how things have changed for you out of a negative situation. Are you happy now? More fulfilled? Have you met new people as a result? Something good will definitely have occurred from a negative situation you have experienced but it is hard to pinpoint I’m sure.
I am really struggling but all I can come up with for my particular situation is, had I have taken that post as reporter and had I have written that film script for Barry Hines then potentially my life would have taken a very very different course, naturally. I know one thing for sure, my amazing, beautiful, eccentric 8 year old son would not be here today and that alone, in itself is a positive above and beyond anything else. Sure I may have had another son with someone else but it would not have been HIM. His soul. And I just cannot imagine life without him now.
Furthermore, I think that I needed to dismiss these two incidents in order to ‘live’ a different life. I think the universe clearly had other plans for me and being a writer was not on the agenda for whatever reason, until now. Perhaps I was too immature to take on the responsibility of being a reporter at that time. I had issues with alcohol from University days until a few years ago and perhaps I needed to address those before I could even consider placing any value on a career. Likewise, parental issues I’ve had – perhaps I needed to factor those into my life as a recovery plan before I could follow my dream of becoming a writer. Sort out the emotional baggage before I could deal with a potential career that could take over my life.
I have dealt with both of these issues – alcohol and parental issues and it’s been a long recovery process but it’s made me who I am today and I’m really proud of who I am now. I never ever thought I would say “I’m proud of me” because I never was until a few years ago but I am. I’m a survivor, I meditate and write and dream and empathise and sympathise and I am so so much calmer then I used to be. All my choices and experiences have made me a much better person, I feel. These are the only positives I can draw from answering question no.5 above. Everything is meant to be. And there aint nothing you can do to alter the past, you just got to deal with it and see it all as one big lesson and be the best person you can be in life.
I’d really like to hear which question you’d answer and what positives came out from your negative experiences? What have you learnt about yourself that has made you a better person or improved your life? I really look forward to your comments. xx