"A word after a word after a word is power" - Margaret Atwood


A blog for readers and writers

A blog about the stories we tell each other and how we tell them...

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Thinking of joining a creative writing course? Read on...

I was browsing and re-discovered an interview I did last year with a Canadian website (ok, ok, I googled my name. I had a ton of other things to do but somehow I just found my newly French polished nails tripping over the keyboard.)
Anyway....here's an extract especially for anyone thinking of jumping into a creative writing course in the new year. (Get in touch if you want to come to one of mine - London and Brighton. I don't have much to do with the admin side but I gather there has been a flurry of enrollments so sooner rather than later is my advice....)

For the full interview go to The Literary Project

You also work as a creative writing tutor. There is a lot of debate as to whether writing is a natural ability or a skill that you can learn. What’s your opinion on this? Do you think anyone has the potential to be a successful author?

No one thinks it odd that an artist should want to go to Art School. Or questions why a musician thinks lessons would be a good idea…There is a craft to writing that can be taught and natural talent can be nurtured and supported. I don’t believe in the tough love method of teaching. That doesn’t mean I pat everyone on the head and murmur very good, but I do believe in the importance of encouragement.

Not everyone can be a successful writer but nearly everyone can get real pleasure from writing with imagination. In much the same way I love drawing but I will never have an exhibition in Bond Street. I would just like to be good enough to go on a learn-how-to-paint holiday without embarrassment…

I want creative writing to be recognized for what it is: the ultimate vocational skill. There is no job, no area of life, where using language with greater precision, thought and effectiveness is not an asset. And perhaps it really comes into its own when faced with the most daunting blank page of all (the one that comes after the list of past jobs and before the address of a referee) where you have to sell yourself to a could-be, might-be employer. English language classes give you the tools: creative writing show you how to use them.

There are so many different types of writing courses out there; from short, online tasters up to Masters degrees. What should aspiring writers take into consideration when deciding what level and type of study is right / most beneficial for them?

First, I think you need to be realistic about the kind of learner you are – can you work on your own or is the social interaction of a class important to you? There’s a big drop out rate from online and correspondence courses – you have to very committed to keep going but they work very well for some students.

Studying for a Masters was important to me. I left school at 16 with a couple of exams. My first degree (in history) was hard won. I studied part time while working full time and bringing up a family so I getting another qualification meant something. It also opened the door to teaching – a career change that I hadn’t even considered ten years ago.

However, if your priority is writing then I would whole heartily recommend adult education. It’s flexible, has high standards and well qualified tutors. I teach on several adult education classes and I love the mix of students, their energy and ability.

What are the most common mistakes you see in the work of students hoping to be published?
1) Too many words. Everything should be on a need to know basis. Does a reader really need to be aware that a character was popular at school or has blue eyes? The writer might need to know all that (and more) but does the reader?

2) Too few words. Often a story takes places in a vague vacuum. Everything happens somewhere and a couple of sentences may be all that is needed to ground a story in urban America or rural England or where ever, but without a sense of place there can be an unsatisfying detached quality. The aim should be to allow the reader to feel what it is like to be there: wherever there is…

3) Too cardboard. If the characters don’t live for the writer they aren’t going to live for anyone else. I once asked a student to tell me something that their main character wouldn’t what anyone else to know. The reply: that he’s a jerk. That answer told me straight away that the story would be flat, lifeless…. Because a jerk doesn’t think he is a jerk.

And finally, can you sum up a key piece of advice for aspiring writers in one sentence?
Write a lot and read a lot and don’t be defeated when you get it wrong: writing is an art not a science, so accept you’ll never stand back and say hmmm, no one could express that better.

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