I love a good writing course. You leave energised, focused and ready with a new way to attack that novel. Saggy middle syndrome? No problem, see if your midpoint reversal lacks punch or is too early/late. Characters all sounding the same? Make each characters’ facial expressions as you write their dialogue. You’ve got interesting characters and beautiful language but nobody is really “feeling” it? RESTRUCTURE! The writing advice that you come away with is invaluable but you actually come away with even more than technical solutions and professional insights. You come away with a whole host of hidden benefits.
1. You open your imagination in ways you don’t expect:
Knowledge is power, knowledge is sexy and all that Jazz, but knowledge is also creativity. From my perspective, I generally go to a course to fix a specific weakness I have in my writing or my current project. So for example I could go to a course on Graphic Novels with Pat Grant to work on my ability to combine language and visual art. I’ll be honest, I’m so far gone that even the genius Mr Grant would not be able to help my artistic woes.
But let’s say for arguments sake I go, not only would I learn about the visual medium, comments made in passing may get me thinking just as much. Pat Grant might mention that his mate DC Green got his start peddling his own wares from school to school and made quite a good living this way. Suddenly you’re thinking about how you can get your own work out in an unconventional way. One thought leads to another and suddenly you’ve started your own boutique ePublishing business for tea fetishism. Or you undertake a course on being Fabulously Creative with Walter Mason and he mentions how he did his PhD on “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and next thing you know you’re completely addicted to spiritualism and have written a bestselling novel about Rodrigo of Spain. Your mind is basically a science experiment. You put a stimulus in and you really don’t know exactly what will come out but you can bet it’ll be interesting.
You are not alone! Sometimes writing can seem almost like an existence of hermitude and madness. Trapped, alone in the dark, with just your thoughts and your hands, expressing yourself away from prying eyes where you can hide your shame. But there are many of us out there. You are not the only one who secretly pretends to be texting when you’re actually noting an interesting phrase you heard. You are not the only one who uses toilet time to dream up new ideas. You are not the only one who never leaves the house without a variety of notebooks and pens in an array of colours so that you can colour code your ideas. There others like you out there. You don’t even have to like them, nor communicate with them, just knowing that there are more like you out in the wild can be enough. It takes away the isolation of your secret habit of hibernating over words because now it’s a community thing not just you. I did the Year of the Novel with Emily Maguire and it was fantastic because although we were all writing for different audiences, in different genres, we were all mad writers in it together. YANA.
But you just said we didn’t have to make friends! You don’t have to. Many courses I walked away with the glow of knowledge and a bit of a YANA sentiment but no friends. That’s cool, that’s normal, that’s what I expect and pay for. But guess what, sometimes you get more. You get to meet like minded individuals, who aren’t desperately paranoid that you’re out to steal their ideas, or desperately competitive and want to tear you down, and they just want to do their best and for you to do your best too. You see, the more Australian authors published, then the more people reading Australian authors, then the more people wanting to read Australian authors, then the more Australian authors who get published. So really, helping others is helping yourself, so play nice people. Just let any paranoia or competitiveness go and be receptive to new things… I think I’m channeling my inner Walter Mason. I’ve met some absolutely beautiful friends through Kate Forsyth courses, one of the most exceptional teachers that I have ever met and so keep going back for more, and have felt very supported to expand my own ideas and writing. Writing friends are the best. Not only can they give you ideas about structure, plot, characterisation and dialogue but they also understand when you explain quite calmly that you cut five human characters from your novel and replaced them with a pet rabbit. Not too many people can do all of that for you… and writers tend to like wine, so they’re often fab if you need a boozy lunch. Admit it, we all need a boozy lunch from time to time.
4. Positivity comes from negativity:
Not everyone will get you. Some people will think you’re writing about weird crap and have spent far too much time researching the exact atmospheric composition required to make a vanilla sky. They might think writing for children is stupid. Hell they might write in the same genre as you but actually hate the genre and want to write in it only for that sweet writer cash, whilst you love it and want to stay true to those who came before but add your own stamp to that. Or you could just not be their cup of tea nor shot of tequila. For whatever reason, some people will just hate your writing, and for that same unknown reason, some people will want to say it in the nastiest way possible. Usually not out and out aggressive but passively aggressively in a manner that will still cut straight through the bone and right to your soul because us writers are sensitive. Heck, I got a little note written to me that said, Nice try, but your story is really stupid and it is a stupid idea, even the teacher clearly hated it, but good effort. Keep trying and you’ll eventually get there. I admit that zen like thinking did not envelop me immediately. I thought, Bitch you be like half my age and haven’t even finished your first chapter let alone your novel so just go over there in the kiddy pool and bite my arse you mean poo poo head! I don’t like you! And you don’t get to speak for the teacher!! And your face is stupid!!! And you’re stupid!!!! Fortunately this is rare, most people are truly constructive but there are those special folk amongst us who really like to go for the jugular. I am quietly confident that our teacher would have been utterly mortified had she seen that note. Although this can feel negative in the moment it is actually quite positive. It will force you to think about your writing. Are they right? Is there a weakness? If so, fix it. Not in the way they tell you to, it’s your story not theirs, and also, because if they can’t phrase criticism constructively… then communication just isn’t their strong point so their suggestions will probably not be spectacular. If they aren’t right, you’ve spent a lot of time going over your novel and making sure it is strong, it is necessary and come away with renewed confidence. So even your harshest critics can give you a positive lesson.
So what are you waiting for? Go do a course today.