Thursday, 8 August 2013

Some Keren David

For the last couple of years I've been teaching a Writing for Children course at City University. It's been a lot of fun and I've had great students. Now I'm handing over to the very capable Tamsyn Murray.
I thought I'd share an advice sheet that I put together for my students at the end of their ten week course. Every batch of students do an exercise in which I ask them to list the reasons  -  practical and emotional -  which stop them writing. Then I compile a list of all the reasons together.  Every time they are surprised to find how the same things trip up almost everyone, especially those depressing self-judging emotions.

So, this is what I tell them:

1     Create a writing routine -  identify times when you can (at least) think about your story once a day and write at least three times a week.  Do not try and write all day every day -  a few hours concentrated work is fine. You might have to get up early or wait until everyone else is in bed. Be tough about it. You deserve a few hours a week to yourself
2.    Create goals -  short and long term. So aim to write a certain amount of words a day, and have a date in mind when the book will be finished. Tell yourself that it is more important to reach that goal than anything else -  should stop you fretting too much over whether it is perfect or not.
3.    It won’t be perfect immediately -  it’s only a first draft! So stop winding yourself up and just get on with it.
4. One project at a time is best. It's too easy to get distracted.
5.    You need to be in love with and excited by your story. Think about what makes you love a book -  the story, the characters, the writing -  and use that as your way in.
6.    Have a list of writing exercises ready to help you develop your story and combat writer’s block. So if you run  out of steam use your writing time to write a letter from one character to another, or send them into the future, or write about their past, or write an outline of the story . You do not have to write your story chronologically.
7.    Find a writing space. A café can work very well. Lots of people find it difficult to work at home.
8.    Write about yourself as a child – this can help with depression and feelings of low self esteem, by giving you a new perspective on your own childhood. Sometimes writing for children can stir up old memories -  but writing about them, especially in a fictionalised form, can help a lot.
9.    Failure can be defined so many ways that it’s not worth worrying about. You might fail to get an agent/publisher/sell many copies/win prizes etc. What matters is that you enjoy writing and think your work is good, and that children enjoy reading it.
10 Read books for children. Get involved in the world of children’s writing (SCBWI is a good place to start). Get on twitter, Facebook. Have fun.


Karen said...

Great advice, Keren, especially about creating a goal and not expecting it to be perfect first time - so many new writers agonise over this. I bet you'll miss teaching the course. :)

Penny Dolan said...

A useful list so thanks for sharing it, Keren.

I am musing on the "not everyone can write at home" . . .

Joan Lennon said...

Thanks, Keren - I'll be sharing this with some young writers and with myself!

Vanessa Harbour said...

Brilliant Keren, thank you, will be sharing this with some of my students too if that is ok

Tam said...

Ha - excellent, Keren *steals for next term*

I've certainly got some big boots to fill!

Roo said...

Great advice, even for the non-fiction scribbler.
Got on a roll during latest holiday, funnily enough, but now, the challenge is giving It time in my Real Life.

Carole Anne Carr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carole Anne Carr said...

Oops, sorry, can't spell! Wanted to say some excellent advice, Keren, thanks for sharing.

Elen C said...

I especially like 'failure can be defined in many ways'...important for all of us to acknowledge at whatever stage!

Sue Purkiss said...

Really helpful. Keren - will pass this on to the class I teach, too.

Sue Purkiss said...

Really helpful. Keren - will pass this on to the class I teach, too.

Austin Hackney said...

Thanks for that, Keren. There are many points in there that I like - although I don't really believe in writer's block!

I'd like to share my hard-learned list, too, in the hope that it may also prove useful to others:

1. Be prepared to work very hard for many years just to learn how to write reasonably well.

2. Read as if your life depends on it.

3. Write in every moment you can find.

4. Finish what you start.

5. Seek constructive criticism of your finished work.

6. Rewrite your work as many times as you need to in order to get it right.

In the end, I think you are spot on to focus at the outset on the fears and anxieties that trouble all writers, especially new writers. If there is one golden quality that a writer needs, it seems to me it is, above all else, courage.