Tag Archives: feedback

When it Comes to Imagination, it’s Horses for Creative Writing Courses…

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?

Decisions!  DECISIONS!!  I don't want to be a grown up.

Decisions! DECISIONS!! I don’t want to be a grown up.

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).

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When you said I could tie a cherry stalk with my tongue, you didn’t say THIS would happen!

So, what’s it all about then?

So, practically speaking, the course is set into five modules, which are taken flexibly over three years:

  1. Core Module – an introductory overview of fiction, prose, scriptwriting and critical analysis;
  2. Critical Analysis – looks at what successful writers incorporate into their writing and what it achieves;
  3. Fiction;
  4. Poetry;
  5. 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.

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Where’s the bridge? You said there’d be a BRIDGE!!!!

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:

Bloody brilliant!

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?

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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!

Bleurgh!  I need a shower. My armpits stink.

Bleurgh! I need a shower. My armpits stink.

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.

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I better get my hat back. I’ve got a big head, and I look stupid if it doesn’t fit.

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.  

 

 

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Filed under Writer's resources, Writing, writing courses

All The Best Intentions…

Probably one of my most annoying traits is the inability to think before I speak.  I thought I’d managed to maintain some vestige of control over it where my writing is concerned. Until recently, when I discovered that, obviously I hadn’t… 

A while back, I asked a couple of writerly friends to critique a short story for me – Colin –  that I’d been wrestling with for ages.  You know what it’s like?  Sometimes writing is as easy as stuffing the contents of a can of Pringles in your face (or maybe two cans, right?), but at other times, the ideas in your head are frozen, like a type of stage fright, steadfastly refusing to make an appearance on paper.

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If only writing was always as easy as binge-eating.

Oh, come on – who am I kidding?  It’s not stage fright.  It’s constipation.  Pure and simple.  Rock-hard pebbles you have to push out with grim determination, that hurt like hell.  I’m afraid to say, I think I might even have that same pained, scrunched-up expression when I’m struggling with writing that I do when I’m trying to…  Er… possibly time for a subject change here.

I get this a lot (writing that doesn’t flow, not constipation.  I swear.  Please believe me), and usually when it happens I write the story regardless, ignoring the diabolical flow, hoping that eventually, it will all form a cohesive whole.  Though in this particular case, there was no ‘whole’ when the words were finally committed to paper: Colin was the writing equivalent of a drunk in a bar – jerky and incoherent.

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It’s best not to let your writing loose on people when it’s jerky and incoherent.

Anyway, I digress.  Back to my writing buds.

I knew them well – having done a few modules of a writing course with them – and understood that I could rely on them to be kind, but more importantly, able to pick out what worked and what didn’t about my, by now, hated short story.  In the past, I’d turn to them whenever I needed an honest opinion, and I knew they wouldn’t let me down.

Now let’s establish something here – something you may already know: one of the most important rules when receiving feedback is that you accept it without comment.  Even if you don’t particularly agree with the critiquer’s opinion.  I mean, as you’ve asked their advice, you have to accept it.   And, there’s a couple of reasons why.

Firstly, if you start trying to justify writing that needs improvement, you start to look like nothing less than an arse.  Yes, that’s right – an arse.

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Being an arse wouldn’t be so bad if only it meant being pert and shapely. I knew I’d get the short straw.

More importantly, remember the critiquing process is not just about you.  it’s hard for someone to give honest feedback, especially when they know a writer has put their heart and soul into a piece of writing.  And my two friends – let’s call them Ethel and Gertrude here, for the sake of argument – have given me lots of useful guidance in the past, helping to improve my writing no end.  The reason they’ve continued to help, is because I’ve accepted it without comment – simply thanking them, going on my way, and using the parts of their advice that I felt was relevant to alter my work.  Even if, at times, I’ve needed to have a little cry after.

So the rule for receiving feedback is:

Don’t comment.

I’ll repeat that again.  Do not comment.

Yes, I’ll say it louder in case you didn’t hear me.  DO NOT COMMENT.

women with her mouth taped up

Sometimes, when you can’t keep your mouth shut, only tape will do.

You know this rule now.  I know this rule.

In the past, I’ve followed it to the letter.  Even when I’ve really wanted to say something in my own (writing’s) defence.

But, unfortunately, not the time when I got the feedback to Colin.

Instead of my usual ‘thankyou, you’re so great – your advice has been a great help’, I took the list of adjustments – which I FULLY AGREED WITH – and decided to explain my thought processes for the writing as it stood.  I don’t know what got into me – I wasn’t arguing with their advice.  What I was trying to do was show my intention in writing it that way.  I don’t know, maybe I was embarrassed – I was used to having more creative success in recent times, and though I’d asked for their help (and needed it), there’s an element of pride being bruised when you’re told your writing needs so much improvement.  Anyway, all that happened was I ended up looking like an arse.  Did I tell you that you look like an arse if you respond back to criticism?  Here’s another reminder:

fat-thong-topless

Yes, I’m an arse for all the world to see.

But what was worse, Ethel was mortified.  (Gertrude was quiet on the matter, but God only knows what she thought.  Sometimes silence is more frightening than confrontation).  She apologised in great detail, thinking she’d hurt my feelings, and said she hadn’t meant to step over the line in her critique.

She hadn’t.  It was me.  I was an arse.

But I suppose there was a positive in the whole situation – it made me understand that the critiquing process is a two way thing: it’s not just about you trusting your reader, but also, about them trusting you.  Just as you need to feel safe in your creative relationship before you pass over your writing, they need to feel safe giving you advice, and understand that you’re not going to argue or nit-pick about the points they make.

So, basically, my point is, when you write, and when you ask someone to give you a truthful analysis of good and bad points, then take their advice, say thank you, and shut up.  That way, they might want to help you again.

I was fortunate because Ethel and I had already established a good relationship, so she understood this was nothing more than a blip.  But, in future, I’ll make sure I treat her with much more care.

That is all.

 

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Filed under constructive criticism, Short fiction