This blog could save you money

by limebirdmike

Looking back over my time at university it’s fair to say I learnt a fair bit – though probably more about myself than about English or Creative Writing. Now I think about it I’m not quite sure why I stuck with the Creative Writing part of my degree. Of everything I did for my degree the actual Creative Writing part was probably the worst. And the reason why? Because you can’t teach people how to write!

Sure, you can teach people grammar, and how to put words on a page, but actual writing – the sort of stuff people want to read?

I still remember that painful first day where our post-grad lecturer went round the room asking us all what writing experience we had. Other than myself, not a single person in our seminar group had written more than a side of A4.

A side of A4.

For those of you not familiar with the way Creative Writing groups work, each week you’d be set a writing task then the following week you’d share your work with the group for comment and criticism. This is all well and good if the group members are passionate about their subject and have something to offer, but when all anyone can think to say it “yeah it’s good” the whole thing becomes a bit of a farce. Add to this the fact that after the first few weeks very few people actually bothered to write anything at all and you get something that amounts to an abysmal waste of time.

In all honesty, I could write for hours on the subject of Creative Writing groups, but that wasn’t quite the point of my blog.

My point is this: if you are passionate about writing, you will write. You don’t need a creative writing group to teach you to write; nor do you need a pile of expensive textbooks. Trust me, I’ve read quite a few of these so-called “How to write” books, and most of them are a waste of time.

As with so many things in life, the best advice is often free. Here then, is my advice to you all:

  1. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Expand your range of reading beyond the things you are comfortable with. Read 19th century literature; read 21st century chic-lit; read trashy newspaper columns; read philosophy. The more you read, and the more you take in, the better you will become. Learn to become critical of everything. This isn’t to say you don’t have to enjoy what you read, but try to pick up writing strategies in whatever you read. Even the worst book in the world can teach you something, even if what it teaches you is how not to write. Bad writing can be as useful to a writer as good writing – not only does it allow you to learn from others’ mistakes, but it can also make you feel better about yourself.
  2. Write. Write for all you are worth. Share it if you like, but most of all: write. If you don’t enjoy something in life, don’t do it. For me, writing is a very special, personal thing. Each and every day I suffer doubt – probably more than I should, but this is perfectly natural, as by engaging in the art of writing we are each of us baring our souls to the world. Even by writing this blog I am, in a sense, sharing a small part of myself with you all. To become a writer you must inure yourself against criticism, but at the same time you must be prepared to learn. As writers we are at once both the hardiest and the most fragile people in the world.

So there you have it, my advice to you all: read and write. Sounds simple, but there’s a whole lot more to it than you may think. While it’s fair to say I don’t think Creative Writing groups are necessarily the best thing for every writer, this is not to say that writing groups in themselves are a bad thing. This is why I am so keen to help out here on Limebird. Not only does it give me a good chance to share what I’ve learnt, but it also gives me motivation to do more writing of my own!

If you have any thoughts on this blog, or any questions at all, feel free to comment below, or perhaps even start a thread in the forum.

Good luck!

Mike

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12 Comments to “This blog could save you money”

  1. I haven’t taken a Creative Writing class in University yet, however, in high school I always enjoyed the 4 creative writing classes I took. Yes, while no one can really teach you how to write, and while I agree the class “critique” is useless most of the time, the assignments we were given always forced me to write even when I didn’t want to – and I appreciated that a lot – and I became inspired more in my CW classes.

    Yet, I do agree with you that reading a lot and writing a lot are the best ways to become a good writer. Great post! 🙂

    • Hello!

      Thanks for your comment 🙂 Well, unlike LimebirdMike I never took any Creative Writing classes, only basic English and Journalism, so don’t have any experience of that type of thing.

      Surprisingly I’ve never actually had any classes in writing, or had any proper training, a lot of mine is reading, writing and experience! Well, that is great to hear your different point of view about the CW classes, which I’m sure any readers of this blog will appreciate. 🙂

  2. Reading and writing a lot is the best way to become a good writer, but I think I have to disagree that you can’t teach someone to write. Yes, the drive, the passion, and the dedication have to be there already. You also seem to have to have some level of inborn talent. You need to already have an ear for dialogue. You can’t teach dialogue. But there is a lot you can teach: how to show character introspection, how to write good descriptions, how to be less wordy, when to cut back-story, how to plot, how to build a character, how to hook your readers, how to heighten conflict on the page, etc. All of these things are more then grammar, and you can teach (or learn) them. I will agree that many teachers don’t seem to know how to teach these things properly, though.

    • Hi Amy,

      Thanks for your comment and point of view. It’s always great to hear feedback and I’m sure LimebirdMike will appreciate it.

      I do see what you’re talking about, as I do agree to some extent that you can ‘teach’ someone to write. However, I would probably say this is more in a technical way, as I think that there has to be the basic talent and love otherwise it’s very tricky and very difficult to become a successful writer. I think what Mike is saying that you don’t necessarily need expensive classes and books to teach you how to write, if you’ve got it there, you can get better. Then again, I always think there is room to improve and hone your craft. 🙂

  3. Thanks for your comments everyone. I know I did pick on CW courses quite a bit in my opening, but of course they can be useful and can certainly give you inspiration if nothing else. My point mainly in this regard is that you don’t *need* to do any of these things to become a writer; nor does taking a course such as this make you a writer automatically: you are a writer, first and foremost, because you write, and because you love what you’re doing. Yes, they can in a sense, teach you the ‘technical’ things, but with so many things in life these things are often best learnt through experience anyway. I certainly know a number of people who know a lot about *writing* in the technical sense, but I wouldn’t say this makes them good writers. It’s almost like saying I *know* how to be an amazing footballer — theory and practice can often be two very different things! Having said this, I do agree with you amymarie about the natural talent thing. I guess it is, and will always be something of a ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma over which comes first.

    @Beth: Of course there’s always room to improve and hone your craft. 🙂 The moment anyone thinks they’re a good writer is the moment they stop being one. I guess that’s kinda the reason we’re all here!

  4. I think, in addition to that post, that when you do write – you should write for yourself. I am my own audience. I write for me. I don’t care if other people do not like what I have to say or how I say it – the pleasure of the writing is completely my own. I think you need to identify that you are the most important person to please when you write. At least, that is how I do it. My perspective on writing is that – yes, you get criticism and knock backs, but hey, if you enjoyed it, believed in it and loved it, then does it matter? If people like what you are writing – wonderful, it’s a bonus, but if people don’t? Meh. For me, writing is a challenge. It’s about creating and believing in the story that so badly needs telling, that it is pouring out of your head via your fingers on a keyboard. Although I have nothing against those who write for an audience, I personally write for myself. I like my own work. I am my biggest critic and biggest fan. I love pouring over my words, rewriting drafts and reinventing entire sections. I love going off, reading a book by someone else and thinking “bugger me! I need to shoe-horn a bit of that style into one of my proj’s!”

    Maybe it’s just me and how I like to do things.

    I’m not bothered about publication either. A few years ago I speculated with some of my poetry and it won some awards and got published a few times. It was nice and certainly confidence boosting, but it wasn’t the reason why I wrote them. I wrote them because I fancied it.

    If I also may wade into the ‘you can/can’t teach someone to be a good writer’. I have to agree with Mike. You can’t. Do you reckon the Bronte sisters went to creative writing classes? Got degrees? Nope. They had a modest education in Thornton and Haworth in Bradford. It was what was within them that made them little belters. They may have been inspired by other writers they read, but they are, in my humble opinion unique and breathtaking – even by today’s standards. No-one could have taught them that. Ever.

    I think you can be shown different ways of inspiration – one creative writing class I went on required us to hang around a Liverpool art gallery and observe people to write about. It was essentially people watching with a biro. That can be taught mainly because you might not have thought about it before.

    I think you need to read a lot and understand the technicality of language too. But you must, above all, do it for you. It is your head that pouring out onto that page and bits of you are leaking out in the process. Forget fame, fortune and credibility. If you wanna go into writing for those purposes, the you should question why you wish to put quill to parchment in the first place.

    • Wow Cat, thank you so much for taking the time and effort to give us such a great response to this post! Yes, I completely agree that you need to write for yourself. Obviously if you do then want to get yourself published, there will be things that you need to tweak for other readers, but if you’re not happy with it, what’s the point? I love your comment about it pouring out of your head to your fingers, as that’s definitely what happens with me. It just happens and I absolutely love that process.

      Well, I think we all have our different way of writing things. Like for example I am not (and don’t think I will ever be), what I like to call a ‘linear writer’. So, someone who will write their story/article etc from start to finish and then go back and rewrite edit. I am a mish mash writer who maybe does the end first, then the beginning, then the middle. It’s very unorthodox and definitely wouldn’t suit everyone, but it’s just how I roll!

      Of course you may! Wade away! It’s always good to have different points of view and opinions. Like I said in my previous post, I’m not really sure. I think teaching does work to a certain extent, but you have to have to natural talent, drive and passion there for it to actually all come together. Really great reference there to the Bronte sisters as that’s a good example. How did these literary greats write their masterpieces? They wouldn’t have had textbooks and online guides and lessons in creative writing. It would have all come from within, and like you said, they still stand the test of time.

      Thanks again for your viewpoint as this is exactly what I love about writing – everyone has one (and I don’t mean this in a bad way!) We all write for different reasons and I’m not sure how you would define a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ writer? What do you think? Maybe I’ll do a blog on this!

      PS – I would ACTUALLY love to write with a quill on parchment. How cool would that be? Frustrating yes, but imagine the feeling of achievement. Anyway, I digress!

  5. Thanks for the response to my response!

    Good, bad writers eh? There’s a thorny one. I suppose, to define a bad writer, is to find someone who didn’t care. Maybe the quality of their work is stunning, but if they did it because they wanted to line their pockets and make themselves famous, then I call that bad writing. Identification of such writers is difficult, but not impossible.

    I like to read something that came from someones heart and you can tell when something did. You can tell when an author has decided to use the world of poetry and prose as some sort of mental conduit to channel the flow of their outrageous imagination. It shines off the page.

    By my own definition, I am a good writer. But in a aesthetically pleasing way, I am not. I’m not going to be a best seller anytime soon. I am not going to be noticed or heralded. I am simply going to be disocvered, decades after I have shuffled off this mortal coil, by my family, who will go ‘awwwww. Great grandma Cat wrote stuff!’ – then that’ll be that.

    You could read what a seven year old wrote and go ‘uh, utter bobbins’. But to me, that random, badly spelt and punctuation free bit of paper shines with everything I would use to define what is good about writers and writing. That kid tried. They did their best and that is utterly perfect to me.

    I know people are professional writers and do make a living off writing – which is fine. Like any job, if you’re happy and it’s what you want to do, then wonderful. That is still good writing, because someone has the fame and fortune, but at the same time, revels in the love and joy if it. It’s those who mangle words for their own paltry ends that bother me.

    Daily Mail journalists suddenly spring to mind. At least with the red top tabloids you know what you’re getting and they don’t pretend to write anything but take-with-a-pinch-of-salt ‘news’. The DM pretends that it is. That’s what I call bad writing. Harumph!

    • Haha – you’re welcome. Thanks for your response to my response to… ok I think that’s enough!

      Yes, I think that’s a good example. It’s really tricky to define a good writer from a bad writer I think, as quite a lot of it is down to personal preference!

      I would like to think that I am a good writer as I write for a profession and obviously I am a writer here. However, this is purely because I love writing so much, I think that’s what makes me a ‘good’ writer.
      I have a younger brother and sister and sometimes I read things they have written and it’s great! I think it’s because like you said earlier, they have written it from the heart and haven’t stressed too much about rules and regulations.

      Well I am a professional writer, but not in the way that you mean. I can’t imagine anyone would pay to read some of the stuff that I babble on about!

      If you feel like that, you should follow @badjournalism on Twitter! Enjoy 🙂

  6. Thanks for your comments everyone. Reading your messages Cat I think you and I are on exactly the same wavelength with regards to writing. I did actually plan to write something on ‘writing for the love of writing’ and some of the other points you brought up — in fact I think I may still yet do that when I get some time. 🙂 Oh, and don’t get me started on ‘professional’ writers and the ‘good writing’ debate. There are some AWFUL writers out there who get paid an awful lot of money to do what they do because a very small circle of individuals classify their work as ‘good’… Even talking about it now riles me! Anyway… back to work… 😀

  7. I was 13 when I took the course… and that is 25 years ago 🙂 I can’t remember my motivation at the time but it was usually an item to write about (tarot card is the one I remember the most) and I wrote a timeslip story that I remember but sadly haven’t kept that though think I could still replicate.

    I then changed schools (or it ended) and I stopped writing. I can’t give you a reason as to why exactly. I then didn’t write at all for the next 20 years until I got inspired by watching the Captain Jack Harkness episode of Torchwood. I’ve not stopped since except for 11 months in a stressful job – so stress may be my reason for that finishing at 14 but otherwise I’ve got no idea. I am now attempting my first novel with original characters and not telly ones 🙂

    • Hi Wiebke,

      Thanks for your input about creative writing classes, I’m sure LimebirdMike will see this soon and respond as well. Ah, being given an item to create a story from does seem to be a popular creative writing tool.

      Well, even though you’ve had a bit of a writing break, it’s great that you’ve got back into it. Writing does seem to find us again if it’s something we’re interested in. Congrats on the first novel, how it is going??

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