Tim Clare DOTQ Couch to 80k Boot Camp: Review

I have been a fan of Tim Clare’s Death of a Thousand cuts for quite a long time, having had a piece of my own work gnawed to a pulp, spat out and incinerated on one episode. A bare-faced, unapologetic revelation about how sloppy a writer I was. This is the kind of revelation we all urgently need, the sooner the better, and one which we perhaps don’t get enough of in the safe space of creative writing seminars.

This happened when Tim was taking submissions from opening pages of novels (which I believe he is still doing, submit on his website if you dare) and analysing them section by section, taking no prisoners and crucifying them if necessary. Here he encourages a fierce and often careful critical voice when editing work.

In his latest podcast series (a whopping 53 episodes) Couch to 80k Writing Boot Camp, Tim encourages writers to tell this voice to shut the fuck up and get the hell out of town. At the beginning of the series he starts soft and eases you into regular writing, encouraging listeners to write lists of names, objects or scenarios. Later it develops to free writes. Tim says just turn up, and for ten minutes don’t stop writing. The words you produce might be sappy, incomprehensible, meaningless or preposterous.

You might produce something like this-

Stabbing scythosaurs with scientists in Seattle. Umbrellas with undulating udders. Swimming again, why am I always swimming? James, wherefore dost thou swimeth so? That ladies and gentlemen is the question in question. Or, no, no, no that is not true. That would be unspeakable. We must not go there and together we must move somewhere else….

Or worse-

The dagger of life or the dagger of death? The dagger of the east or the dagger of the west? The dagger of the unborn, and the dagger of the unworthy, certainly. Swimming in the swamp, arms flapping about like newspapers in a London breeze, floating down into the underground. A sack inside a sack, inside a sack, lumpy lumps of lumpy lump and lump, which lumpeth forth into the lumpworld, where all are the lumpiest of lumps. Creatures feathered and friends also now with feathers. All armoured and conniving for the death and the destruction. Wanderers, (Bolton) will win the title and wanderers will wander, in this world forever.
But the actual production of words is paramount. You might not like what you’ve written afterwards, but stare at the page after a ten minute free write and you will see paragraphs and paragraphs of your own signature creation. Some of which might even have potential to be used in later projects, or even better, just turning up to write might even create ideas for projects in themselves. It’s actually quite a crazy thing to do, to create in such a way, experimenting in the laboratory of your brain. Looking at the words, you realise that was in your mind at the time. You might have things like that in your mind all the time, but you let them die like mindless lemmings, queuing up in their thousands to leap off the cliffs of doom. But if you wish you can freeze them, record them and look at them, clear, shameless, naked and inviting you to inspect and play with them. After all, the human creative capacity is the most exciting and mysterious thing in the universe for us, it’s why we get out of bed in the morning. So why not prod it, squeeze it and push it to it’s limits and see what happens?

Tim’s exercises are like an obstacle course, encouraging writers to flex their creative muscles in entirely new ways and approach their craft from exciting new angles. This can be anything from writing a scene with monosyllabic words, to writing from the perspective of an assassin hiding in a nearby tree. The possibilities are endless. But also, Tim encourages a change of setting when writing, having recorded one podcast in the woods, another driving around in his car at night. He argues that toying with your environment, routine and writing apparatus is essential for keeping ideas fresh, and the process fun.  I don’t think anybody could possibly disagree. 

Aside from listing a multitude of fun exercises that conquer the boredom, mental lethargy and pure dread that writing often brings with it, Tim is a truly warm, empathetic and hilarious guide. Listening to him speak is simply a pleasure. He says he doesn’t script the podcasts but if this is true he has an almost unbelievable, superhuman ability to conjure up hilarious and outrageously detailed metaphors (‘popping up everywhere like mushrooms full of hallucinogenic word juice’) and analogies to suit what he is trying to explain. He doesn’t even edit, it’s just one take and there it is, bang on the money every time.

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Dali himself gave me the heads up for my marking structure. I’m sure Tim’s is very different. Red for exercise, green meditation, blue reading, purple writing, with a load of letters on top to indicate less healthy things. This method is so effective because you can actually see your progress, right in front of you, in your bedroom, on the wall. Your mind loves that kind of clarity.

Doing the exercises I grew to enjoy Tim’s insights about life as much as his ones about writing. He speaks about the benefits of having a calendar, and marking it with colours for achievements e.g exercise, writing, meditating. The idea never really crossed my mind before, but I am doing it now and I’ve never been anywhere near this productive in my life (I have probably NEVER meditated, written, and exercised in the same day. As you can see from my calendar I did this loads last month). He talks a lot about cold showers as well, which is a step I’ve not yet had the drive (or bollocks) to implement, but I will take his word and will definitely be open to blasting myself with a torrent of nipple-sharpening water in future.

If you are like me, you know that writing is the only thing you’re half decent at, but find writing, the thought of writing, actually writing and anything associated with writing tends to freeze your spine and make you want to run away as far as you possibly can and hide up a tree somewhere, then you couldn’t ask for a better course. This will make you realise, slowly that you can do what you want to do, and it doesn’t have to be agonising. Or boring. It can actually be rather fun.

Who knows? one day you might even publish a novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Creative Writing Seminar

 

So basically I was in this creative writing seminar. Everyone was reading their poems about things and the lecturer was commenting on how sick we were at poetry and stuff occasionally and we were all handing out sheets of paper with our poems on them to the class and writing things on them if we felt that that was a necessary thing to do.

“I particularly liked the metaphor about (insert metaphor). That was a tremendous image, it really was,” the lecturer might say about someone’s poem.

“Yeah that was really good actually,” someone else might have said.

A guy called Dave who always wore burgundy Superdry clothes had to read his poem. I really didn’t like Dave’s poetry, because it was a bit depressing and sometimes a bit pretentious.

 

We marched together, like imperial soldiers

your arm round mine, tied to my ulna like rope

up the mountains, as if Ben Nevis was only a hill

and you were my perfect future. 

 

“Nice one Dave,” we all said.

One student covered her eyes with her hand in order to conceal a tear which had escaped from her face.

“Are you okay?” the lecturer asked Hannah.

“I’m fine! I’m fine!”

“It was a very touching poem,” the lecturer conceded.

“I’m fine! Fine!” she said, endeavouring to cover her face now more than ever- which had turned vermillion.

She was probably fine. She just had an extremely personal connection with heartfelt verses, such as the ones that Dave produced every week, that was all.

“Thank you Dave. Thank you very much.”

Dave smiled to himself and put his pen in his mouth feeling a bit satisfied with himself and also a bit like Sartre. It was my turn to read a poem now. Which one should I read? errrm errrm errrrm errrrm…

As I was deciding, I saw the lecturer withdrawing a pouch of Golden Virginia from his pocket. I decided to read the one about the depressed squid that I’d been working on for a few weeks.

Then the lecturer pulled out a pack of King-sized rizzla.

 

I float through Sea, I float through the salty water

like an octopus (but I am actually a giant squid)

 

“Sorry to interrupt James, does anybody have a train ticket or something? Making a roach you see.”

“Yeah sure,” Caroline handed the lecturer a train ticket (rather obsequiously). Everyone fancied the lecturer to a certain extent.

“Thanks. Do continue James,” the lecturer said as he effortlessly crafted the perfect roach.

 

I plunge through the darkness, propelled

like an extra-terrestrial missile, armed only

with my tentacles of cruelty and contempt. 

 

I looked over to my lecturer who had now ground some weed and was gently dispersing it across the tobacco, until there was little left to see within the paper but a thick blanket of powdery light green leaves. The smell of haze spread across the room like a friendly cloud. I continued…

 

I have an eye that is too big, and terrifies everyone.

Why do I move in bursts, why do I buffer through the sea?

I don’t belong here. I am depressed.

The class showered me with applause.

“Wow James that was probably your best yet I reckon,” one said.

“I loved the buffering. Squids do move like that!” said another.

“I love the way you portray depression as a thing that affects creatures as well as human beings,” another.

“You’re a genius James.”

“Thanks,” I smiled.

There was a bit of a silence. The lecturer revealed an extremely long and perfectly shaped spliff, removed a key from his pocket and packed the top down nicely. Then he folded the top over, preferring the folded approach to the twisted one. We all know that the folded approach is the more sophisticated, and that the lecturer had definitely made the right decision there. The lecturer tapped the finished product on the table and held it between two knuckles.

“Well I have to say James. That was an outstanding poem. How do you come up with stuff like that? You’ll have to tell me some day… anyway in the mean time, I think you’ve deserved it; would you like to do the honours?” the lecturer handed me the spliff and a bright red clipper with a massive yellow smiley face on it.

I lit the spliff and it was really harsh. Then I passed the spliff all the way round and everyone had some.

“Great seminar guys!”

Then we all went home really stoned and wrote a bit more poetry.