Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Writing courses


Image by cienpies

We can always learn more. It is one of the joys and responsibilities of being a sentient being - an ability to improve right until the day when an eco-shroud is pulled up over our faces, our bodies are placed in a hole, and a noble tree or bush planted on top. (So much greener than the stupid and wasteful stone-hewn epitaphs). Do not abuse the powers of intellect, letting them rot and stagnate in a fog of unquestioning consumption!



Sorry, I mustn't have had my usual cup of tea this morning. That always makes me cranky.

Some people are - apparently - born writers. Others do degrees in creative writing, or at least study it whilst doing literature courses. There are a wealth of books out there giving advice on how to write; or more specifically, 'How To Write And Sell A Novel - An Idiot's Guide'. I have gathered quite a few of those on my writing shelf over the years. Regardless of route, we all improve with practice, observation, and hard work.

Writing courses are incredibly useful tools as well. Whether it is a full course or just a one day workshop, they can provide opportunities to write, inspiration, tips and guidance, or a supportive environment to experiment. The best ones have the encouraging atmosphere of a writers' group. Over the years I have attended many workshops: Celia Rees on horror writing, Richard Davies (owner and director of Parthian Books) on getting published, Anthony Nanson on writing sci-Fi and fantasy, and a number of workshops during a Wales and Ireland Writer's Weekend I attended. From each of these I have taken away something other than just notes - sometimes it is a new contact, sometimes it is a piece of advice that sticks, sometimes it is just a renewed enthusiasm for writing. But it is always something valuable. I have also studied on longer creative writing courses, for example one run by Lindsay Ashford, and another by Oliver Morys. Longer courses have the opportunity to develop themes, to get to know your fellow participants in more detail, to experience lots of styles of writing taking shape from the same seed of inspiration and to marvel at how different each plant can be. It reminds you of how miraculously diverse the beings behind each pair of eyes are. I've also attended many readings and talks and writing groups and even some one-to-one sessions with published writers - these are all great learning opportunities too.

Therefore, if you haven't attended courses before, look out for them! Try some! It is well worth it. It can only help to develop your writing, and my experience is that during your time on a course or workshop you write a lot more new material than you would have done otherwise. Three cheers for new material!

Sometimes you can't get to a course, or there isn't one running. This is where the Internet comes in. There is a huge amount of help available online. In my last post I mentioned the feedback I got from John Yeoman at Writers' Village. It turns out they offer a free short course on improving your writing as well as your chances of winning writing competitions. Never one to throw away an opportunity I registered for this. The first thing you get is a short practical e-book, 'How To Win Writing Contests For Profit'. It is not a book about writing style but a system for maximising your chances in competitions, and potentially income from that field if you want to take them incredibly seriously. After that you will get a weekly email of advice to help improve your writing - lots of useful tips, tricks, and things to consider. So far I have received links to the first two lessons, which cover quick strategies for adding individuality to character in your work, and useful ways to introduce and describe minor characters in order to make them believable. I've found that they work well as bite-sized lessons to chew over during the week, seeing where you could apply the ideas in your own work. I look forward to seeing what will appear in future lessons.
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