Okay, I admit it. I’ve often thought about doing some kind of writing course. A master’s degree is the most appealing – although this is mainly because I like the sound of being able to say I have a master’s degree.
Some of these courses are tempting. They’re taught by published authors and sound like something you should do – as if you’re doing yourself a disservice by not signing-up.
I’m not going to take a writing course though, because, when I think about it, I don’t see the point.
It’s not that I think I don’t need to learn and develop. I just think that these courses run the risk of producing cookie cutter writers – especially when you’re supposed to write fiction extracts that get marked by tutors. It makes me feel a bit rebellious.
But that’s not the only problem with these courses.
I work full-time, so if I wanted to do a part time MA, it would cost me around £4000pa. Yesterday, I saw an ad for a creative writing diploma – by a very reputable organisation – which cost £7000.
I’m not underestimating the importance of knowing how to structure a story, or knowing what people mean when they talk about sub-plots, foreshadowing and other writing components. That stuff is important; I just think there are more cost effective (and efficient) ways to attain that knowledge.
Let’s face it, the vast majority of published writers didn’t get a degree in writing. They just wrote.
So how can you become a better writer if you don’t want to spend that kind of money? Well, it’s not like we don’t have other options.
Books on writing
The great thing about having a variety of books to refer to is being able to pluck one off the shelf at the exact moment you need help. Instead of being taught by a couple of qualified people, you have dozens of them at your disposal.
One thing everyone says is “read widely in your genre”. I tend to read anything – if the blurb makes me want to read more, I’ll give it a go. Reading a wide range of fiction helps you identify the kind of writer you don’t want to be.
Authors blogs and social media posts
There are certain areas that you need to work on to become a good writer, and many authors will tell you what these are, free of charge. When I first started writing I found Holy Lisle’s website, it’s packed with information. Some writers are great at delivering tips over Twitter as well (while others only use it to promote their latest book – but that’s another post…)
You don’t need a class to give you feedback. All you need are a few friends who you know won’t bullshit you. These people are your Beta readers. They’ll tell you what doesn’t make sense, and show you where the writing needs to be punchier. By this stage, I know my story inside out and I’m not sure what needs to be explained to the reader, and what gaps they should fill in themselves – you have to leave some room for imagination, right?
God that sounds dull. It makes me think of playing the recorder at school. The problem is, you don’t get to be brilliant at something unless you spend a lot of time immersed in it. This doesn’t have to mean writing or rewriting only. Anything to do with the writing process – like planning, character sketches and world building – counts. The aim is to become a better writer, not to write the greatest amount of unpublished words in the history of humankind.
Anyone can do these five things without needing to pay someone to help them. It takes a few minutes to discover what the fundamentals of good writing are. The implementation is the problem.
The only person who has control of that is you.