Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Creative Writing Courses – what can they teach you? By Marie-Louise Jensen

Without doubt, there are things writers can learn on a course and things they can’t. The main thing you can’t learn is how to write. That is not to say that you can’t hone your writing skills. Certainly a course which encourages workshopping and critical feedback can lift the standard of your writing. This works mainly by picking up on the things you do well and encouraging them, and also picking up on the things you do less well, so that you can improve or avoid them in future. It’s a harsh process to undergo, but for many students, very beneficial.
Writing for young people is a very particular field and there are things a course can teach you about the marketplace you want to enter. Age targeting, for example, and about how the agent and publisher process works. Students are encouraged to read contemporary fiction, to get a feeling for what’s around. Which leads to obvious conclusions such as don’t have your characters fall down a hole/walk through a wardrobe into another world, because, um, hello, that’s been done to death.
This all sounds terribly simple, but when you look at submissions to agents and publishers, it becomes clear that most aspiring writers know little or nothing about these things. And how many people are aware that approximately 80% of such submissions are fantasy?
If you are serious about writing a book, and think you have the grit to see a manuscript through to completion, my advice would certainly be to get yourself on a course. If nothing else, you are likely to have lots of fun.

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