Wednesday, 3 March 2010
Horses for courses
Oh, how I love a good writing course.
They’re an opportunity to learn about the craft, to pick up tips from people in the know and to mix with like-minded folk. They’re also, if I’m brutally honest, a nice break from the everyday business of kids, work and walking the dog. As for the residential ones – they're even better. I’ve never been on a week long Arvon course [family, dog and job would not make the space for that quite yet] but I’ve been on two short courses through Cornerstones, which were worth every penny. I’ve also done a couple of evening classes through the London arts based body Spread the Word, run by the wonderful writer [and teacher] Maggie Gee.
I’ve recently finished an excellent telephone course run by the London Writer’s Club and just to show how keen I am, I’ve also ploughed my way through a couple of the course books for an MA in creative Writing. I read every blog by editors and agents I can find and buy just about every ‘how to’ book on writing I can get my hands on.
But I’m starting to notice that the advice given is sounding familiar. I think I understand about showing and not telling, about the importance of voice, about the subtleties of characterisation and dialogue, and how to recognise a good plot. You hear about people pretending to be doctors and I reckon I could put on a pretty good impression of a writing tutor if it was a course for beginners.
How to get an agent? Simple: target the ones who are the best fit for your writing, write a sparkling letter, be businesslike in all dealings and make sure your work is at the highest standard it can be. Workshop it, pay for a report, check it and edit it again and again. Then edit it once more before it gets anywhere near an agent’s overloaded desk.
See? I'm quite convincing. Ask me another....
This isn’t meant arrogantly. I’m not exactly beating agents off with a stick so I’m still clearly a way from making a success of my writing. My point is that I understand all of this on a cerebral level and maybe that’s as far as it goes. Some other fairy dust has to be mixed with this knowledge in order to elevate me out of the slush pile. A famous author whose name escapes me was once asked for some advice for authors trying to break through. His answer was, ‘write a better book’.
Harsh? Maybe. Good advice? Probably that too.
I’m reaching the stage where I know what has to be done. No course is going to open a magic door for me and make my dreams come true.
It’s time to put on my Big Girl Pants and simply write a better book.