What I learnt from my Creative Writing course

Future LearnOnce I’d made the decision to devote proper time to my writing on a regular basis, I knew that I would want to learn as much as I could about the craft of writing. I have always written and I have always loved reading since I was first able to do it, and what’s more, I teach all aspects of Literacy in my job, but I knew within a very short time of starting my debut novel that there was a lot I could learn. I researched a few creative writing courses in the UK and was surprised at how expensive most of them were. There are a number of excellent degree courses but I was loathe to start another one and anyway, where would I get the money to pay for that or for any of the other courses on offer? So, I was delighted when I found a free Open University course, run by Future Learn, called Start Writing Fiction that would run for eight weeks and take place online. The course is aimed at beginners, as well as those with some experience so I wasn’t sure how much I would pick up from it but I wanted to try it just in case I might learn something from it. As this week is now the final week of the course, I wanted to report back on what I have achieved.

Keep a Writer’s Journal or Notebook In the first week, we were encouraged to start keeping a writer’s journal or notebook. This may be the most useful piece of advice I received from the course. I blogged about it here and tried to explain just how useful I have found this approach, especially with my advancing years! It’s so easy to forget things and getting into the habit of writing useful ideas or observations down has really worked for me. If you don’t do it yet, I would seriously recommend it. By the time we revisited the idea in the fourth week, I had established it as a habit, writing something in it virtually every day.

Writing Prompts In the second week, amongst other things, we were given a tip about a writing prompt which suggested starting some sentences with ‘Emma said that’ as a way of getting your writing started. For example, I wrote the following sentences using this prompt:

  • (Emma said that) one of the servers had seen a famous actor in the Food Hall.
  • (Emma said that) it was definitely the one from that detective series on TV.
  • (Emma said that) he’s just as good-looking in real life as he is on the screen.

The idea with this prompt is that you use it to get you started it and then remove it later. Once I took away what was in brackets above, I was left with three core sentences that I then used to write a mini-story. In the third week, we received feedback on that piece of writing from our peers and thought about editing.

E M ForsterThe Difference between Story and Plot Another piece of advice I found very helpful in week four, was how to get from an idea to a plot line. E.M. Forster wrote in ‘Aspects of the Novel’ that a story is a narrative of events arranged in their time sequence, whereas plot is a narrative of events with the emphasis on causality. In simpler terms, this means that a story tells you what happened but the plot tells you the reason why things happened and this is what is fascinating for the reader. The reader wants to know what causes your character to do things or to be the way they are and one of the ways that you can develop your character is by asking questions of them – you know the ones. At school, we call them the 5Ws and the How. Why was the man angry? What had happened to him? Where was he going? Who was he? When did this event happen? How did it happen? The important thing to remember is that these aren’t scientific questions, there’s no right or wrong. You answer them using your imagination and this is what gives you your plot. The other question you need to ask is ‘What if?’ Answering this question about your characters adds richness to them and in so doing, further develops your plot. In week five, we developed this by giving our characters flaws which caused conflict or a struggle and so deepened our plot that bit further still.

Planning a Short Story By week six, we had a character that we had been developing for a while and we were given the task of writing a short story of between 750 and 1000 words. We had to write the story from their point of view, using either first or third person. As you know, I have written a lot in first person so I decided to write my story in third person to see what that was like. I found it quite easy to write in third person but the hardest thing was keeping within the word count, whilst still trying to develop a character and a plot. We have been asked to edit rigorously, thinking about setting, point of view, the type of language we’ve used and our sentence structure before submitting the story this week for feedback from our peers. My story is now ready to go and I feel happy with what I’ve written using the things I’ve learnt on the course. I have found the feedback received so far to be very constructive and I hope that this final task will be the same. I plan to post the story for you all to read in due course.

So, in summary, it has been a good experience doing this course and I have picked up a lot of useful pointers. You can always learn something, no matter how old or how experienced you are and I highly recommend this course if you come across it in the future. Thanks for reading and I look forward to receiving any comments below. Have a good writing week 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Julie Stock and My Writing Life, 2013 – 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Stock and My Writing Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Fancy a Christmas short story?

Last week, I decided that I would have a go at writing a short story as a post-NaNoWriMo activity to try and ease myself gently back into novel writing mode. I’ve not actually written a short story before and at first, I wasn’t sure how long to make it but in the end, the story dictated its own length and it finished up around 2,500 words. It’s only a first draft but I felt quite pleased with what I had written and as it is a Christmas story, I thought I would share it with you today. I would welcome any comments on my story, as well as any constructive feedback. Hope you enjoy it!

and-the-band-played-one280a6short-story1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Julie Stock and My Writing Life, 2013 – 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Stock and My Writing Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I’m a NaNoWriMo 2013 winner and it feels great!

I finally finished NaNoWriMo 2013 last Friday, having written a grand total of 50,007 words of the first draft of my second novel, provisionally titled ‘Seeking Approval’. It felt so good to meet the goal I had set myself of writing a minimum of 1,667 words every day during November. I think there was only one day when I didn’t write and so I was able to catch up again quite quickly. I worked really hard to follow the advice and keep my ‘inner editor’ at bay, only changing what I absolutely had to in order to keep writing. Some mornings I would wake up, knowing there was a massive plot-hole and that I wouldn’t be able to write any more until I had fixed it so I did that but nothing else in terms of editing. The final story is pretty solid so far and I think that’s partly because I wrote an outline, this time. I haven’t stuck rigidly to it but it certainly helped me when I found I was getting stuck and gave me the push I needed to keep going on several occasions. I suppose that I had a certain clarity of vision when I wrote the outline and that helped me when things got a bit ‘blurry’ further down the line.

I took the weekend off from writing to recover a bit, and to put up Christmas trees, you know, essential stuff like that. 😉 We have a family tradition of putting the tree up on the first Sunday in December (lucky for my kids this year!) and so I had an obligation. It was fun though and allowed my brain time to think about what I needed to do next in my writing life.

So, today, I have gone back to editing my first novel, ‘From Here to Nashville’. I am still in the first phase of self-editing, which I have designated the ‘reading aloud’ phase, following all the advice I’ve read. This has flagged up lots of little things that I will tidy up afterwards. I’m still only about halfway through though – it really takes a long time to read aloud, which I’d forgotten. I reckon it will take me to the end of the year to finish this phase and then I’m going to have a go at all the editing levels suggested by the other writers I follow on Twitter. I will post links to these as I go through, in case it’s of help to anyone else.

In the meantime, I thought I might try my hand at a Christmas short story, taking inspiration from many other writers out there who seem to be doing the same. I’ve never written a short story so I think it would be a good discipline. It will also take my mind off the two things I’m waiting to hear back about: a first chapter critique for ‘Nashville’ and also, whether it has been accepted for a free manuscript assessment. Busy, busy, busy.

What’s your writing life like post-NaNo? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Bye for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Julie Stock and My Writing Life, 2013 – 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Stock and My Writing Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.