Friday, 30 June 2017

Courses for authors? Hilary Hawkes

“What course do I need to do to be a writer?” someone recently asked.

I had to think for a minute.  Not because they aren’t plenty of courses out there that claim to help would-be-writers and not because I couldn’t think of a few in particular that have a good reputation.

My pause was more to do with the fact that someone could think that a course, as a qualification I suppose, would turn you into an author – as long as you completed it. Because, really, that on its own probably won’t will it?

When I decided I wanted to be a writer, or discovered I was a writer, there wasn't the choice of online, in-person or in-classroom schools where you could go to learn skills and tips and progress along the how-to-get-published route. There were a few – but really hardly any. Back then there were books such as Teach Yourself Writing and (my favourite but now out of print!) To Writers With Love by Lesley Conger. I was 17 when I read it and found it all sort of nurturing and wonderful. Writing, sending manuscripts out to publishers and agents felt like quite a lonely business, but this book, you see, was on my side.

There weren’t even any very helpful author groups either. There was something wonderfully amateurish in my home town that called itself The Writers’ Group and which was mostly made up of elderly ladies who liked writing poems. They were nice poems, actually, and it was  friendly, but I was a teenager.

Later, after I’d had some modest success with getting some short stories published, I did take an online course. I loved it. The tutor recommended a particular agent and it was that particular agent who took me on.

Are courses useful, not so much for teaching about story structure, characterisation etc but for the contacts and support? And perhaps they replace the feedback editors used to have time to give on manuscripts that are rejected.

Can improving as a writer in those early stages (or at any stage) be done just as well by reading lots of the type of books you want to write – and studying some of the brilliant how-to-write/structure/create characters etc texts that now abound? Plus, maybe, some individual mentoring/critique feedback?

Something to ponder: if you were right at the start of your writing career now would you apply to take one of the well regarded courses? 

Today I really do think children’s authors are blessed with support and advice, including from organisations such as the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Society of Authors group for children’s authors (CWIG).

Perhaps what the good courses do so well is help budding authors consolidate and practise writing skills, give feedback and then, very importantly, suggest contacts. That nurtured and wonderful feeling in addition to being amongst others who are on your side and share your passion and hopes definitely gives confidence, support and the impetus needed to persevere. 

What are your thoughts or experiences of courses?

Hilary Hawkes


Rowena House said...

I became a bit of an addict to courses after an agent mentioned Winchester back in 2009. Weekends there were hugely inspiring. I met people I still know, including an editor whose encouragement kept me going for years. Despite a no from her in the end (2012) I'd made the next breakthrough by then. York with Writers Workshop also fantastic, so are SCBWI conferences and retreats. Book Bound gave heaps of excellent editing advice. MA at Bath Spa still paying unrivalled dividends as well as ongoing support from our cohort and the wider Team MAWYP. Off to Arvon this year. I think what courses do particularly well is recharge batteries and interrupt isolation, giving a sense that we're all in it together and that the writing is an end in itself; it's not all about getting published. The best writing guides are great helpers too, and value for money in these straightened times, but courses are a real treat.

Hilary Hawkes said...

Thanks, Rowena. You're right, it's not all about getting published. Hope you have a great time at Arvon :)

Rosie said...

You reminded me I still have my copy of To Writers With Love from years back. I like the way you describe it as being on your side. That's what courses do too, I think.

Hilary Hawkes said...

Thanks, Rosie. So glad you kept your copy too!