In the previous posts I wrote about how practise makes perfect, but I also said that writing, like any form of art is something that can be taught. You need aptitude and talent too, but these two alone may not be enough to make you into a successful author.
Learning you Craft
In this post I will talk about the various ways that writing is taught. These are all my own experiences, so this is not a conclusive list, but I hope it’ll be helpful to you.
1. Online resources and books.
This is a good start. You’ll find out what you already know, learned from writing essays at school, college or university, and if you join a few online communities which you like the look of, and take part in the discussions, you can really develop your writing skills. I tend to find interesting posts on writing through Twitter, and articles that my fellow members of the Alliance of Independent Authors recommend on their Facebook group. But there are other organisations, and many, many blogs on writing. Two that I can wholeheartedly recommend are Nail Your Novel blog by Roz Morris and Jessica Bell‘s series of books on writing.
2. Writing courses
There are several short courses on creative writing. Some of these can be quite costly, so it’s worth considering the outlay carefully, and (if possible) talking to people who’ve taken part before signing up. A few years ago I took The Story Seminar course with Robert McKee, and although it was expensive, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. This is a scriptwriting course and if you didn’t love Casablanca before, you will after the course. Even though I’m a novelist and not a scriptwriter, during the long weekend, I learned the structure of a story in a way I’d never done before. After The Story Seminar, I wrote The Red King of Helsinki, and rewrote Coffee and Vodka.
3. MA in Creative Writing
I wrote a whole post about my crazy year at Bath Spa University a few years ago, and if you are interested you can read the post here. All I’d like to say now is that taking a year-long course is a real commitment, something which I was prepared for at the time. The main benefit for me was that the MA made me finally believe in myself as a writer. However, I do think that you can get the same experience online, or by attending shorter courses these days (I took my MA over ten years ago). But, if you can immerse yourself in learning creative writing from the best for a whole year, go for it.
I certainly wouldn’t change that year at Bath Spa for anything – it was the best and, at the same time, the most difficult year of my life.
This seems so obvious, but you’d be surprised how many new would-be authors shy away from actual writing. I’ve said it before in these series of posts, but this is so important that it is worth saying again: Writing is a craft – you get better the more you write. It’s as simple as that. Think of it as any form of art or craft: knitting, drawing, painting, woodworking, baking. Your first batch of biscuits or loaf of bread is not as good as the 100th…so just as Hemingway famously said, ‘Apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and write’ (or someone said something to that effect, see this article).
As much as writing, reading is really vital to learning how to write. It’s good to read in the same genre as the manuscript you’re working on, but the most important thing is to read a lot, whatever the genre. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a manuscript, I find it easiest to read something else, such as my guilty secret, a Nordic Noir crime novel by Jo Nesbo, for example. Sometimes if I read in my own genre, women’s fiction (or literary romance), I find myself struggling to keep my voice. When I’m editing, however, I find reading in my genre very useful. But that may just be me.
Finally, here is a great article from the Guardian, ‘Ten rules for writing fiction’. Have a look at this for fun, but remember, like all rules on writing, these can be broken too.
I hope you’re enjoyed this series on Advice for New Writers so far. The next post will be up early February when I’ll talk about traditional versus self-publishing, and whether such a choice will still exist in the future.
Now it’s over to you. Have you taken any courses on creative writing, or would you consider one?