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.