Do writers need to go on writing courses?

I’d love to know everyone’s views on this. I’m of the general opinion that as a writer you should be reading as much as you possibly can and this qualifies as ‘studying’ writing. I’ve only ever tried one writing class and came away very disappointed.

I have tried a few books dedicated to learning the ‘craft’ but haven’t found them as useful as I’d hoped. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s because writing is such a personal thing.  There is one book I do have on my ‘to do’ list to read and that’s Alison Baverstock’s Is there a book in you?  I’ve seen good reviews. One reviewer, I seem to remember, decided after reading it there wasn’t a book in him. He did pursue short stories instead though. I understand there is a section on the publishing business which, although it sounds dry, is vital if you are serious about getting published. (Certainly I will have read this book before I approach an agent).

Now books on grammar, that’s a different story. I was one of many of children at a (terrible) school who exasperated foreign language teachers when, aged 11, we began to be taught French and/or German. It was discovered we needed first to be taught English grammar. After all, it’s difficult to assess the treatment of a German pronoun when you’ve no idea what an English one is! Their efforts went largely unrewarded, but I do still have a great desire to get better and better at grammar. It is something worth studying.

Standard formatting is another area it’s worth looking into. I was so surprised, despite my many years of reading novels, I hadn’t noticed each new paragraph was indented, as is dialogue for each new speaker. Of course I would have no doubt noticed if a book hadn’t followed this rule. It’s the same with script writing, there are rules and to get taken seriously you have to follow them. You may be a maverick with the most unusual, groundbreaking tale to tell, but no-one’s going to bother to read what you’ve written if you don’t present your work ‘correctly’. The literary critic (I mentioned in my last blog) spent quite a lot of time explaining errors in my formatting. It was aggravating because, had I submitted it properly formatted, she might have had more time/space to go into more depth about my story. Every word counts/costs! It was a good lesson to learn. I’m sure I’ve still got writing ‘tics’ that need addressing. (Please let me know if you notice any.)

So, learning the craft of writing; I truly believe the only way is to do it, and keep doing it. Part of the reason books on writing are difficult to follow is that everyone is different. There may be authors who start work at 9am and finish at 5pm, begin methodically with a story outline then commence with chapter one, but there are so many others who don’t. I’ll leave writing habits to another blog. My point is, writing is personal. Unless you want to produce formulaic novels you have to find your own way.

Having said all of that I am going on an Arvon Foundation course in June. I’d never heard of Arvon until the writers conference last year (run by the Writers and Artists Yearbook). To hear publishers and agents rave about it really made me sit up and take notice. The course tutors are (often Booker (and other) prize winning) published authors and know their stuff. Numbers are limited to around 10, so you really do get personalised tuition. One of the main attractions for me is the idea of finding yourself in some remote house in Yorkshire, Inverness-shire, Devon or Shropshire, cut off from the world, immersed in my writing – blissful. So, come June, that’s what I’ll be doing. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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10 thoughts on “Do writers need to go on writing courses?

  1. jakiedwards says:

    No I don’t think that writers need to go on courses. I think that alot of the courses out there play on a writer’s insecurities, feeding them along the way too. The same can be said for alot of the How To books as well.
    Although I’m going to admit to owning (or loaning from the library) more than a few.
    I wholeheartedly agree with you that a writer needs to write and KEEP on writing but I would also add that they need to listen. You do need to push that manuscript under people’s noses and ask them what they think. In addition they need to be people who won’t suffer your wrath. Your husband, lover, mother etc. They want you to be good and if you’re not, well they might not tell you the whole truth…
    I’ve been using writerscafe.org to put my stuff out there. there are contests, other wirters galore on the site. For the most part people ‘love’ you just because they want you to ‘love’ their stuff, so it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt and a shovelful of suspicion.

    • plantageneta says:

      Hi Jaki, Yes I’ve got a lot of ‘creativity’ books on the shelf gathering dust. I find more inspiration in hearing a piece of music for the first time, or just watching the world or more usually having time to daydream…I do love daydreaming!

  2. ahamin says:

    I didn’t go to a writing course. And now I have a new born book, everyone read it loved it.
    But you really do need to read a lot, it was the best way to know how the big writers posted their own fragment of the creator in them on paper. But ideas, is all you… You have to have a stimulus, music, exercise, films… anything that gives the subconscious a chance to form the idea… best ideas come from the subconscious, since our conscious is too busy with our reality.

    • plantageneta says:

      HI Ahamin, great news that you have a new born book. How’s it doing? You’re right music, films, etc are all great stimulus, anything that excites and inspires.

      • ahamin says:

        Well I Placed my book in three bookstores only. And I’m doing well in the regions I placed them in. But once I’m free, I’ll be reaching further, and of course Amazon, I’ll place it on Amazon.
        But I won’t lie to you… its hard, but I love it, it gives me a sense of purpose.
        All the best and good luck to you 🙂

  3. Phil Norris says:

    I’ve two books on writing – one by Stephen King and the other (scriptwriting) Michael J Staczynski (of Babylon 5 fame) – In King’s book he advises writers to be wary of courses as most are just there to make money out of the unwary. I did English Lit at Secondary school, I got a grade 1 (old CSE grade). That’s the only “training” I’ve had.

    Also in his book King advises writers to read, read lots in any genre. In his view that is the best form of training/advice any writer can get.

    • plantageneta says:

      Hi Phil, would you recommend the Stephen King one then? Yes I think reading is the best training. I used to like reading the dictionary, but then I’m a bit sad like that! (Unfortunately I’ve a terrible memory so not many interesting words really stuck).

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