This post is for any aspiring writers who drop by my blog and it’s the start of a short series of posts on investing in your writing. The posts will cover the investment of time and money needed to start, develop and publish your writing and will be based on how I did it. It’s not definitive; It’s a personal account and the advice offered is there to be taken or ignored. But whatever, I hope you find something of use in the development of your own writing.
This first instalment looks at how to get started. Of course the best advice is ‘just do it’, but what if you find it’s not quite as simple as that?
Do you want to write, but aren’t sure if you can? Do you believe you can write, but are unsure what to write? Do you know what you want to write, but are unsure how to go about it? Have you done a bit of writing, but never had any guidance or feedback, and would now like some? Do you procrastinate when it comes to getting words on paper, citing fear, busyness and other excuses?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then maybe you should consider investing some time and money in developing your desire and ability to write. Perhaps a writing course is worth considering. There are many types of course on offer. Here in the UK you’ll find local authority evening classes, Open University courses, both free and paid for, and even degree courses in creative writing.
But there are also residential courses that offer tutored writing retreats and are, typically, one week long. And that’s what I did back in 2000.
I’d already done a bit of writing. I even had an idea for a novel. But procrastination and excuses were preventing me going any further. It was only when I was diagnosed with cancer that I woke up to the fact that my tomorrows weren’t infinite. None of us comes with a guarantee of enough time. So I did a deal with fate, the universe, myself, and I promised that if I survived the cancer I would stop procrastinating.
I survived. So with the cancer kicked into remission, it was time to keep my promise.
I signed up for a week’s residential writing course with the Arvon Foundation. The course was called ‘Start Writing’ and it was held at Moniack Mhor in Beauly, near Inverness, in the north of Scotland.
It was a wonderful week. Moniack Mhor is a whitewashed, low-ceilinged cottage surrounded by fields. There were about ten of us, men and women and a mix of ages. We ate all our meals together and we were all on rota for cooking the evening meal. This, along with the shared morning writing exercises and the post-dinner social time, ensured we bonded well and a lovely, co-operative and supportive atmosphere prevailed.
In the afternoons we were free to write, rest, or go for walks in the beautiful countryside surrounding the house. We were all also given an afternoon slot with a tutor for personal one-to-one feedback on our writing.
The novelist Ali Smith was one of the tutors and it was her who gave me feedback on a short story I’d written. She offered constructive criticism and said she wasn’t sure my piece worked as a short story. However, she also told me she didn’t doubt I could write and that within my story there was a novel struggling to get out.
This was all the encouragement I needed. The story eventually became my first novel, ‘Change of Life’ – especially apt because going on that course at Moniack Mhor did change my writing life. It gave me the belief that I could write.
Nowadays Moniack is no longer part of the Arvon Foundation. It’s now a standalone creative writing centre. They’ve just announced their 2015 programme and it looks amazing. There will be courses for beginners, and courses on short story, poetry, novel, crime and science fiction writing. There will be courses for young writers and a writing retreat for more experienced writers who just want quality time to write.
If you want to know more visit Moniack Mhor’s website here where you can find out all about the centre and download the 2015 programme. It may be too far for you to travel to Inverness-shire, but there are other similar writing centres in other parts of the UK and beyond that would be worth investing in.
Yes it will cost you money, but I would urge you if it’s at all possible, do invest in your writing and invest in yourself.
Happy learning and good writing to all of you.