We’ve reached the mid-way point in the Birkbeck College Developing Your Fiction course. So, can you teach good fiction writing? Here are some thoughts:
- Obvious but true – the more you write, the better your writing gets. I’ve enjoyed our weekly exercises, which gave me freedom to experiment in ways that wouldn’t have occurred to me otherwise. And having ‘homework’ is remarkably good at ensuring I do actually sit down at least once a week to write. Better, I’m making it a daily habit.
- Having a critical reader, like the course tutor Dr Carol Barker, is fantastic for picking up your ticks, bad habits and habitual laziness. Now, when I write, I can already see the red underlining, with the courteous question ‘cliche?’ whenever I resort to a ready-made phrase. Which is often. I’m much more alert to my own foibles.
- Sharing ideas with the class is great, not least because of enthusiastic and astute feedback. The encouragement I gained from sharing the first chapter of my novel with the class helped strengthen my resolution to see it through. I’m well into chapter 17 now, with a clearer idea of where I’m going. I actually believe I can finish it, which is an improvement on my state of despair at the end of last year.
- Just being with a bunch of people who think writing fiction is a reasonable thing to do, as opposed to a mysterious, weird, peculiar hobby, is heartening. And what a varied, fascinating, erudite, talented bunch they are.
- The syllabus has helped give me tools for thinking about my fiction. Does my story have a shape, a point to it? Have I given too much (or too little) information about my main character? Is this scene best expressed through dialogue, summary, description? Is the pace varied enough to keep the reader’s interest?
So yes, I’d recommend a fiction-writing course. It can’t write my novel for me, but by goodness it’s helping me to write it for myself.
Other places I’ve found help and inspiration:
- 9 ways to find the time to write: http://victoriamixon.com/2011/03/07/9-ways-to-find-the-time-to-write/
- 5 ways to write better (this week): http://www.writersrelief.com/blog/2011/03/become-a-better-writer/
- Daily doses of advice to writers in 160 characters or less: http://twitter.com/advicetowriters
I started by posting all my fictional exercises here. Naturally, most of them now make me cringe, but I’ll leave them up as a reminder to do better next time. Some didn’t get posted because they felt too personal, or because I’m not ready to share them yet. The latest piece, our Easter holiday exercise, is A Cabinet of Curiosities. It’s a little weird.