Can creative writing can be taught? Are writers born or made? Does everyone have a book in them?
As a tutor of a range of writing classes, most of the time I’m commenting on ideas, asking questions about a text, teasing out stories, refining style and hopefully guiding a writer through the process of getting something down on paper – until there work is the best it can be. It’s facilitating the ‘spark’ that comes from an individual’s imagination…
In recent years, the number of writing courses available across the spectrum from complete beginners to the post-graduate and published, has ballooned. If you have the aspiration, time, and money (sometimes quite a lot of it) then you will find a course to suit you. The trick is to shop around – and around again, check out the testimonials and listen out for recommendations – and find one that you will learn from, yes, but above all, that you will enjoy.
The good courses have several things in common: company, feedback, writing prompts, deadlines and mentoring.
Here are 5 questions that frequently concern new students:
What if somebody steals my work?
The honest truth? Most writers are far more interested in developing their own ideas than they are stealing other peoples. If someone has got to the point of joining a class, then s/he generally wants to learn the craft or get writing the story whirling round his/her mind. It’s true there is no copyright in ideas, but what we do with that idea is wherein the skill lies – and (believe me) every writer will do something quite different. (Oh, and there should always be a formal ‘what happens in the group, stays in the group’ agreement before you start).
I’m not qualified to critique my peer group – and why should I be asked to?
Most courses encourage an element of peer feedback – where pieces of writing are shared publicly and colleagues invited to offer comments to one another. It’s a great way of honing your own writing – it’s often easier to see omissions or inconsistencies in someone else’s work; in your own you can’t see the clichéd wood from the trees. Editing is an essential part of the writing process, and peer critiques are a great way into practising editing.
What if everyone else is better than me?
The great thing about creative writing is that there is no right or wrong. There is no one voice or style or plot that is perfect. Some people might be more experienced than you, some less so. Some might be great at grammar, some without a clue. Doesn’t matter. Don’t compare yourself – embrace your differences! Everyone is learning together.
Can you guarantee I’ll get published after this?
No writing course I’ve come across promises this, even the bigger names who can offer introductions to agents or publishers. You may well learn how to refine your work, check your markets, and put together a synopsis or whatever… and in doing so, you should maximise your chances of getting to where you want to be, but the publishing market is tough. Very tough. First and foremost, join a class and write because you love (or suspect you might love) writing, and see where it takes you.
Who the hell are you anyway?
Okay, nobody has ever (yet) said this to my face, but I don’t doubt many would like to! And why wouldn’t they? The implication is that if I’m not a bestselling author, then what can I possibly have to offer? Well, if I was a household name I probably wouldn’t have the time or inclination to tutor a regular class.
I can write. I can edit. I can facilitate. (And I can evidence all of those and am happy to do so – just ask.) A tutor needs to be able to do all three – and to enjoy doing them. For me, tutoring (and editing) is not an I-can’t-so-I-teach choice, I do it because I love doing it.
Next month, I’m going to write a bit more about the importance of editing, but in the meantime if you are interested in writing courses, you could (yes – here comes the shameless plug!) do worse than look up www.writingclasses.co.uk 10 week programmes for all levels, all starting Monday 23rd January.