Invest in your Writing – Part One

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.

Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre
Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre

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?

image via shutterstock.com copyright Thinglass
image via shutterstock.com copyright Thinglass

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?

image via shutterstock.com. copyright EKS
image via shutterstock.com. copyright EKS

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.

image via shutterstock.com. copyright Suriya KK
image via shutterstock.com. copyright Suriya KK

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.

So you want to be a writer – Just Do It

Photo of keyboard and pen
Image via Wikipedia

Just Do It…

Part One

Getting started as a writer

Do you fancy being a writer of fiction? Have you got the new
notebook and pen – or do you have a new, but empty, folder labelled My Writing on your computer? Do you have
a few ideas of what you might write? Are you finding it impossible to get
started?

Procrastination – the old, obstructive enemy of even the
most experienced author. It might present itself as the devil on the shoulder,
taunting the writer with jibes about lack of ability and about wasting time.
Or, wily enemy that it is, it will often portray itself as a concerned friend.
It will respectfully present other priorities more deserving of the writer’s
time. Or it will insist that the writer is too tired to take up a pen or sit at
a screen. It will soothe the self-doubter, saying don’t put yourself through
this painful process – it’s not worth it – all that rejection and
misunderstanding.

I am a recovering procrastinator and my experience is proof
that even the most naive novice writer can beat the ‘P’ word.

I have wanted to be a ‘proper’ writer since I was at school.
I am now in my fifties – and it’s only in the last ten years that I’ve taken it
seriously. It’s true, I’ve always kept a diary and I’ve also written travel
journals about time spent in the Middle East, Africa and Australia. But it
wasn’t until 2000 that I began to write in a truly creative, imaginative and
sustained way.

Why did it take me so long? Well, you see, I had such a busy
life – professionally, and as a wife and mother – and, besides, ordinary people
like me couldn’t be writers, could they? It would be pretentious, delusional, and
ridiculous to even try.

But as the new century began, I kicked the procrastination
demon into touch. For me it was a brush with mortality that presented the now
or never ultimatum. Putting things off till tomorrow was no longer an option.
Yes, all very dramatic, I know, – but like Fay Weldon said recently in a radio
interview – too many people live as if they’re immortal. She didn’t mean we should
be morbid, but we should seize the day.

If you want to write, just get on and do it. Cliché warningthe longest journeys begin with a small step – cliché, but true. Therefore
if you’re contemplating starting out, start simple. Write a letter, a diary
entry, a short story, a first chapter.

Build writing into your day – like the gym session, the
meeting with friends, the dental appointment – find the time, even if it’s only
half an hour a day, or a week, or a month – and put it in the diary. Keep the
appointment with your muse and enjoy it.

And keep at it. Set about improving. There are various ways
to go about this. You could take a writing course, read a writing manual,
subscribe to a writing magazine, join a writers’ group – real or online.  I did all of these and all were helpful in
different ways.  Three specific things
worked especially well for me. Attending an Arvon Foundation residential
writing course got me started. My development as a writer continued when I
joined http://www.youwriteon.com .   Joining this online community led to
significant improvements in my writing and I now have a group of trusted
writing buddies as a result. And the deadlines provided by entering writing
competitions gave me goals to aim for and kept the indulgence in displacement
activities to a minimum.

Ten years on, I’ve completed one novel for adults and am
writing a second. I also have an outline for a children’s novel and I’ve won
several prizes. Although I’d explode with delight if it became possible to do
so, writing is not how I earn my living. I have a rewarding and demanding day
job and writing is how I spend my me-time.

Procrastination is no longer a problem because I can’t
imagine my life without writing.

It’s an escape, it’s
therapy, it’s scary, it’s exhilarating, it’s addictive. My only regret is that
I didn’t take it up sooner.

So, if you’re attracted to writing as a hobby – go for it. Kick
the ass of procrastination

Feel the fear, carpe diem and do it. Above all – enjoy!

In subsequent posts
I’ll be offering advice, in my exalted capacity as an expert novice, on
characterisation, plotting, settings – and anything else that I can think of
that I’ve learned that might be of use to complete novice writers of fiction.