Thursday, 22 May 2014

Learning To Write Betterer!

Apologies for the lack of blogging again recently!  It doesn’t mean nothing’s been happening on my writing journey.  Quite the opposite, in fact – I’ve taken some sizeable steps along it.

Kinda bizarrely for an unpaid “job”, I’ve been really busy writing in the last few weeks to meet certain deadlines.  The first was for a competition at a writing conference I’m going to in June.  Despite the fact that there were a couple of competitions I could have entered B4 (kids’ book codename) into, it was the Feature Article one that caught my eye – “Never Give Up!  Never Surrender!  How to keep writing in the face of rejection!” 

Yay, I could put last year’s agent rejections to good use, I thought :-)  A coherent theme for the article popped into my head and off I went.  I’ll find out how I did at the end of June, but it reminded me how much I love writing factual stuff and I’ll be looking for future opportunities to do that too.

The other deadline was for agent submissions for the same conference (Winchester Writers’ Festival).  As well as the fact there’s gonna be three-days worth of amazing talks and workshops, as part of the package you also get five 15-minute appointments with agents and authors.  A-ma-zing!  Usually when you submit your work to agents, you get zilcho feedback.  Criticism and insight from 5 different voices in the publishing world would have been worth the course fee alone.

Mostly the agents I chose wanted the first 2,000 words of a manuscript, plus covering letter and synopsis.  I didn’t fancy submitting CAF (YA story codename) to all 5, especially as there’s likely to be some overlap with their comments, so I got B4 out of the drawer, dusted it off and tweaked the opening chapters.  Simples!

Less simple was preparing the first chapter of CAF.  First chapters are notoriously difficult to write and most writers make significant changes to them once they’ve finished drafting the whole book, or often even cut them altogether, starting further into the story or completely re-writing the beginning.

As I haven’t finished a full first draft yet, this was a big challenge, but ended up being fantastic for my editing skills and the plotting for the whole story.  It forced me to carefully consider what the most important aspects of the story were.  I also had to more thoroughly develop the backstory, so that what we first experience of the characters and where they are at the opening moment is consistent with what’s happened to them previously. 

As a unpublished writer, there are rarely any deadlines, so this was an unusual time for me.  Having to polish your work to competition and submission standard – especially when realistically you’re mid vomit draft with your writing – was a big gear change, but a hugely productive and useful one.  I’ll let you know how I get on in a few weeks’ time when I go face-to-face with these scary lions of the publishing industry!!

The conference itself is something I’ll definitely be blogging about when it happens, but it has been an integral part of important decision making about the future of my writing journey in the last few months. 

Conferences and courses for writers always seemed a strange thing to me.  I used to think that you were either a good writer or you weren’t.  Most people can put one word after another, and some just do it better than others.  Can you learn to write betterer?  ;-)  Plus, I believed (and still do) that while great writing must be well constructed and plotted, it also has an extra spark that you just can’t be taught how to create. 

I was gobsmacked to first discover that you could do a MA in Creative Writing.  MAs were for serious academic study, surely, not just learning how to put words on a page more efficiently.  And how on earth could they teach you how to include that essential (to me anyway) spark?  I've come to appreciate that there is a huge amount to learn about the craft of writing and recognise that MAs are well respected by many in the publishing industry.  So I started to consider doing one.

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”  Ernest Hemingway

I went along to the University’s post-grad open evening and it sounded great, but I always weigh up the cost benefit of everything (and my husband is even worse!).  At £6,000 it wasn’t cheap (!), but would it be worth it?  Would it develop my work so that I stood the best chance of getting published? 

It was the Arvon course I did last year and the prospect of the Winchester conference that nailed my decision.

I knew the MA, most importantly, would give me kudos with certain people and possibly open some doors that wouldn’t otherwise be opened to me.  I also knew that I would learn tons and make lots of good contacts.  However, compared to what I could learn, and the contacts I could make, at the number of other courses and conferences I could attend for the same money, it was a poor pay-off.  Could it provide the same benefit as nearly 8 Arvon courses or 20 Winchester conferences?  I don’t think so.

That’s not to say it’s not a good course and right for other people to do!  Everyone’s temperament and way of learning are different.  I’d love to do – and, if I’m honest, to say I have – an MA, but it just won’t progress my writing journey in the way I want it to.  So I’ll just keep carving my own flexible unique path…and document it here for anyone interested in the adventure ;-)

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