Janet Edwards: Ten Things That A Writing Course Did For Me
In the autumn of 2007, I signed up for a writing class. There are many different types of writing courses to choose from, including online courses, short residential courses in beautiful surroundings, and the major commitment of academic courses such as an MA in Creative Writing.
The decision on which type of course is best for you is an individual one, depending on personal circumstances, and how much time, energy, and money you can commit.
I was recovering from a long period of illness in 2007. I had limited energy and money, so I joined a two hours a week adult education class that was close to my home.
I knew very little about writing back then. If I started that class with any goal at all in mind, it was to write a short story and possibly get it published. I know a lot more about writing now, and thinking back I can see all the things that writing class did for me.
- I had a teacher who knew a great deal about writing in many genres and had had books published himself. If you’re making a major commitment, either in time or money to a writing course, I strongly suggest researching the knowledge, credentials, and publishing record of the person or people teaching it.
- I was in a class with other people who took their writing seriously. This is far more important than it seems. If your classmates have an enthusiasm for their writing, then it will help to fuel a similar enthusiasm in you.
- Going to the class gave me a reason to write something now, rather than next week, or next year, or next decade. It’s so easy to let writing drift off into something you will do in the indefinite future. A goal of writing something (even if it’s only a paragraph) by the next class can make a significant difference.
- The teacher would read and comment on a few pages of my writing each week. When choosing a course, check what level of feedback you’ll get on your work. If no one ever looks at your writing, you’ll carry on repeating basic errors.
- There were sessions on many varying types of writing, but I was free to focus on the types of writing that were right for me. Learning about other types of writing can be helpful, but being forced to spend large amounts of time writing something you dislike can kill your enthusiasm. If your heart is set on a specific type of writing, whether that’s writing a children’s story, or a history book, or literary fiction, or a romance, make sure that your writing course will support you rather than work against you. If your aim is being published by a major publishing house, or your dream is to self publish, make sure the course supports that too.
- There were opportunities to read aloud to the class. It’s very revealing to read something aloud to the class, because you can watch their reactions, and see if key sentences are working or not. Do the listeners gasp, laugh, or shudder at the right places? Falling asleep is generally a bad sign.
- I could listen to others reading their work, and join in supportive criticism. Discussing the successes and flaws in someone else’s work, can help you learn to apply an objective judgement to your own writing.
- I was taught about writing rules. You need to know the rules of writing, so you can learn when you should break them.
- I was told about how to format my work for submission. This is very basic, but any agent or editor will confirm that they get some submissions that are eccentrically formatted. Purple gothic script may catch an editor’s attention, but not necessarily in a good way.
- I was given information on writing markets, and opportunities like short story competitions, and actively encouraged to submit my work. The class also published its own volume of short stories and poetry. For many people, the idea of sending their work off to a competition, a magazine, an editor or an agent, is terrifying. I found that entering short story competitions was a way for me to overcome that barrier. It also boosted my confidence and finances when I won.
I spent a couple of years going to that adult education class. I started by writing short stories for competitions, and ended up writing full-length science fiction novels. Ten years later, I currently have three books trade published, four books self published, and several shorter pieces. When my latest book, Defender, was published in early December, it brought me to a total of one million published words.
If you’d like to read one of the short stories I wrote when going to my writing class, there’s one on my website that won a competition.
Website|Facebook|Goodreads|Twitter Janet Edwards is the author of the Earth Girl science fiction trilogy (Earth Girl, Earth Star, and Earth Flight) and related books set in the Portal Future. She also has a new Hive Mind series set in an unrelated future Earth. Earth Girl was voted an American Library Association Teens’ Top Ten Title. Find out more about Janet and her books at www.janetedwards.com