The one on Learning the Craft of Writing

As a blubbering new ‘writer’ (if I can even call myself that), the only basis I have for writing is the little I learned from my high school years in France. I did choose a literary branch of studies and had to read all the French classics but somehow, you are not really taught the process of creative writing. You study the texts, novels, poems to understand their inspiration or what they were trying to convey but not so much how the plot was structured or the characters developed.

That of course didn’t stop me from dabbling in soppy poetry and cheesy teen short stories. I was quite the loner in my teenage years. I didn’t have many friends, I was often bullied and I was angry all the time. If you met me now, you wouldn’t believe that as I am nearly quite the opposite: outgoing, sociable and always smiling! But I digress (again!).

I stopped writing when I started to work. Somehow going to work didn’t leave much room for my creative process. I probably would have started again after I got used to it but that’s when I moved to London and started learning to speak a new language (well I had the basics but that doesn’t prepare you for real life speech). It took most of my brain power to absorb all this new vocabulary, the different accents and speech patterns. Then I became lazy again.

Over the past fourteen years (that’s how long I have been in London), I have read countless novels in English and very few in French. I don’t really enjoy reading in French any more. I find it too pompous and the genre I like to read are often written by English or American writers so I want to read the original versions, not the translations. Once or twice, I tried to start writing again (in English) but I felt I was lacking technique or vocabulary and I didn’t feel like writing in French. I finally got the bug back last year, after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The day after I got the news, I started blogging about it, originally so I could keep my friends up to date with my treatment without having to repeat myself, and then because it was very cathartic and I found a supportive community of women going through the same ordeal (and I digress again…*sigh*).

All this setting up is so you understand why, after all these years, I have finally taken the leap and signed up to a creative writing course. I am not someone who mopes around for long. If I feel that I am missing something, I usually go and get it. No point complaining about not having the tools and then do nothing to acquire them, is there? I thought about taking new classes at Birkbeck University. I did my Cert HE in Psychology with them a couple years ago and the teaching was excellent and as this university specialises in adult learning, the classes fit around working people’s schedules. But thanks to our “new” government’s changes in educational grants etc, Birkbeck didn’t get anything and therefore all the prices went up dramatically. When I could justify spending up £600 for 22 weeks of classes, I really, really can’t afford to fork out £1000 for 11 weeks course. So I turned to my good friend “Google” and found the excellent and affordable Creative Writing Courses website. It didn’t take me long to sign up for their beginners’ class and then I had to wait…and wait…until it started mid October.

I honestly was buzzing with anticipation for that course and I wasn’t disappointed. The classes were well structured, with a good balance of lecturing and in class exercises and time to share with the rest of the class what you had written. Most of what you learn in the class, you can find in creative writing books and if you are someone who learns well at home, with books and all, maybe you don’t need the course. I am not so disciplined unfortunately. I need to have deadlines set up by someone else and people to share and bounce ideas on and for that, the course was well worth it. I will not give you a blow by blow of what I learned. I haven’t go enough distance to evaluate how much I have learned. I can however, give you a breakdown of the topics covered over the past 6 weeks (Saturday 17th November was sadly our last class).

Original Creative Writing course topics per week (3 hours):

  • Week 1: Introduction to creative writing and where to start
  • Week 2: Characters
  • Week 3: POV and Voice
  • Week 4: Description
  • Week 5: Plot
  • Week 6: Quick recap and Editing

It went so quickly and I felt that I only scratched the surface…which I suppose is the point with a Beginner’s class. Each week we had a little bit of homework to do, to prepare us for the next class. Usually to write a little piece which we could volunteer to read at the next class. First few classes, no one ever volunteered. I guess we were all terrified to say out loud what we all believe to be a shit piece of writing. There is no worse critic than yourself. But as the weeks went by and we realised that the feedback was always constructive and supportive, we usually didn’t have enough time to read all the volunteers.

This course definitely wet my appetite for it and although I still feel a little scattered (that’s my main problem), it has renewed my conviction that, yes, I can do this. So, I will most certainly sign up for the Intermediate course, which starts in February 2014 (and from what I gathered, most of my classmates will too). We have gained better understanding and reassurance that we don’t suck as much as we thought but we have also gained a new community. We all exchanged our emails and one of the gals will set up a “club” so we continue meeting on as being able to share what you do with people who are willing to listen and give you constructive feedback and not just ego massaging comments is as valuable as remembering the techniques to make your novel flow.

If you are interested in the course but can’t actually come to London to attend them, Maggie Hamand, the course tutor and founder, has published a For Dummies book which the beginners’ class follow: Creative Writing for Dummies, which is really easy to follow (like all the for Dummies books – of which I am a big fan).

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