Last time, I talked about whether good writing could be developed with the help of a writing course. This time, I’m focusing on one writing course in particular:
Help! My writing’s in a rut! How do I dig out?
Okay, so maybe you like writing and you want to improve? Or maybe you want to write, but you’re not sure how to start? Maybe you don’t have access to a local writing group, or maybe you do, but it’s just not working for you? Maybe you’ve been considering doing a writing course, but haven’t got around to it yet? Maybe you’ve heard good and bad reports about them – there’s so many on the web it gives you a headache to choose? Maybe you feel you haven’t got the time, or maybe you’ve heard they’re expensive, and you think they’re not a financially viable option for you?
Whatever the reason, you can tie yourself in knots, so sometimes, it’s good to have someone else’s opinion. Someone who’s done a course already, who’s soared the highs and survived the lows. Yes, you’re right – that person’s ME!
When I was researching my options, it was around the time that university fees had gone through the roof, and I was an indecisive mess (something you’ll quite frequently witness if you know me well) until I stumbled across the York University online creative writing course. (Yes, it’s a mouthful, but really, once you get over the hurdle of the tongue-twister, you won’t be disappointed).
So, what’s it all about then?
So, practically speaking, the course is set into five modules, which are taken flexibly over three years:
- Core Module – an introductory overview of fiction, prose, scriptwriting and critical analysis;
- Critical Analysis – looks at what successful writers incorporate into their writing and what it achieves;
- Scriptwriting (including scripts for radio, film and stage).
The cost of each module, and the accompanying books, won’t break the bank (between 2011-2014, the cost was approximately £200 per 11 week module.)
How was it for you?
Overall, I absolutely loved it, though there were some peaks and troughs, and yes, it improved my writing no end. Not just my writing, but my confidence too. From completing the first module, I’ve shared things I’ve written with anyone who’s interested (as well as anyone who’s not). I’ve posted on writing platforms, entered competitions, submitted to magazines, became a staff reviewer for Readwave, and also, have been asked to contribute to short fiction website Storgy.
Yet, while it was money and time well spent, I have to admit that there were moments when it felt like an ordeal that was never going to end (though, fortunately, I’m not one for giving up). Maybe all courses are like this? As you reach the last few miles of your journey, the light at the end of the tunnel seems just as far away.
It made me think, whenever we do anything, there’s often a downside. In fact, there’s very little that’s all good or bad, but it’s useful to know, before you commit, the advantages and disadvantages of this type of course:
Firstly, there are a lot of reasons to sign up for the York Uni online course:
- The knowledge of an experienced tutor, who teaches at a degree level, but gives you the support that suits your ability.
- Flexible learning. An online course means you can do the course whenever you’ve got time rather than having to attend timetabled classes.
- The certificate was far less expensive than a degree, though the course was still taught to an extremely high standard.
- Suits writers of all abilities, from novices to the more experienced.
- Invaluable feedback and support from tutor and peers.
- Connections made with like-minded people that continue beyond the course.
- The focus on fiction/poetry/scripts gives you a strong understanding of all types of writing, regardless of your main interest. For example, the concrete imagery in poetry, and the scene-setting and dialogue in scripts, create a better understanding of writing good prose.
- The end of module assessments give you a clear indication of your current writing standard, your strengths, and where you can improve.
- Lots of inspiration for writing new material.
- You don’t have to do every module. If you want the certificate, you have to complete the whole course, but it is possible to do the fiction, poetry, scriptwriting courses individually if you so wish.
- You can do the course from anywhere in the world, so you’re not limited by location or travel. (Though getting hold of resources, or watching the recommended programmes etc, could be more difficult).
And is there a shit end to the stick?
Like everything, you’ve got to take the good with the bad. Here are some of the negatives – or rather, the aspects of the course that affected me negatively.
- It’s time consuming. You need at least fifteen hours a week for all the reading, writing, research and critiquing required for the course. Tough if you’ve got other commitments. I found it took me much longer. But I’m a slow reader and a slow writer.
- Some of the course members do not get as involved as others which can be frustrating. (If you’re anally retentive like me and expect everyone to put in an equal effort).
- Sometimes the sheer amount of critiquing required can be tiresome – I found by my fifth module it became more of a chore (though my personal commitments changed too, which put more pressure on my time).
- Completing the many course exercises means you have a lot less time for writing for pleasure.
- With an online course, you miss the joy of knowing people individually; a personal relationship; putting a face to a name.
Enough whinging! How was it overall?
Though there might seem to be a lot of negatives, there are definitely far more pros than cons. I certainly don’t regret doing it, and if I was in the same position, wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. The course was invaluable to writing improvement, and I felt fantastic when I finished it. What an achievement!
Also, I’ve developed continuing relationships with some of the course members – we continue to critique each other’s work and offer friendship and support. They are my safety net when I don’t have anyone else to turn to. (Not many within my family and friendship circles are interested in writing, so it can be a lonely business, especially when you’re feeling insecure – and it’s likely you’re in the same boat too).
In the future, I’m intending to do a Master’s, but at the present time, I’m all coursed out. For now, I’ll keep on writing, but I’ll write for me, take some risks, and send off more submissions to competitions and magazines.
And remember – all writing’s good, whether you do a course or not. Practise is practise, so keep at it.
You know you want to.
Obviously this is all my opinion. There are lots of good courses out there, but as I’ve had no experience of them, I can’t tell you what they’re like. If you’ve taken part in a writing course, please stop by and let me know your experiences, whether they were online or on campus. I’d love to hear. Or maybe you don’t think they’re necessary. I’d like to hear what you think about that too.