A huge thank you to Sue for inviting me onto her blog today… I don’t think she realised that when I’m enthusiastic about something, I can ramble for hours!
So Sue’s asked me to convince her of the merits of creative writing courses, classes and workshops. I’m hoping that by the time she reads this she’ll be enrolling on everything she comes across.
My first experience of ‘creative writing’ was a baptism of fire. I decided (through madness or stupidity, I still don’t know which) to accompany a friend to a course at our local Adult Education centre. I hadn’t written any fiction since leaving school, although I had been journal writing for several years. That was exactly 2 years ago this month, and it was one of the best decisions of my life! I’ll be honest; the course itself was a little boring. I found myself nodding off in several sessions! But somehow, through all the yawning something clicked. Something happened to me during that short course, and it’s been driving me on ever since.
I realised that writing is just like any other subject. To be a good writer you have to learn how. I devoured books, writing magazines and completed Nanowrimo (twice!) all in my quest to be a better writer. But I needed instruction. I needed someone to tell me where I was going wrong. So I enrolled on the NEC’s Home Study Writing course. That was great, but I felt very isolated. Seeing the advert for Swanwick in The Writing Magazine, and my friend agreeing to come with me, came at exactly the right moment, as I was beginning to realise that I would need more than just my passion to achieve my dream.
Since that first trip to Swanwick, a truly life changing experience, I have studied with The Write Place, attended many workshops, been to Caerleon, attended Swanwick for a second year and completed an online Pocket Novel Course. I’ve had critiques on my work by respected authors, joined a writing group, and set up a writing group. My life has been enriched by every single experience, and my writing improved tenfold. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve learnt in the last 2 years, it’s been a roller coaster, one that I’m not sick of, just yet. I’ve met some fantastic writers, inspiring tutors, and made some great friends.
It was all very scary at first. You’re in a room with all these people and you’re thinking, oh no, they’re all better than me, they’re all proper writers, I’m not. But the great thing is, you don’t have to share your work. There have been plenty of times where I’ve gone completely blank. Most recently at Swanwick, when I did an Erotica class with Della Galton. One of the exercises was to come up with a title for an Erotic story. Could I come up with one? Nope! I watched everyone scribbling away in their notebooks, whilst my pen just hovered over mine. Of course, I didn’t offer to share my non-existent title, and by the time I’d got back to my room I’d come up with six!
But there are other times, when you hear people read out their work and you think, wow, mine isn’t so bad after all. When you take that first step, to share something you’ve just written, read it out aloud to the class, your chest is pounding and your mouth is dry. You wonder, “What the hell am I doing here?”And then, after you’ve read it, someone says “Oooo, I want to know more, what happens?” or “That was really good, I liked it.” Well, at that moment, your confidence soars and they have to peel you down from the ceiling.
If you’re the shy type (as I am) I would definitely recommend attending a couple of work shops or classes before you throw yourself in at the deep end and attend a residential school. The residential schools are brilliant, from a social aspect, but they can also be a little overwhelming for an introverted newbie. I would never have attended one on my own, without at least knowing one person there. At Swanwick they have a white badge scheme, so everyone knows its your first time. This is very useful, because, although you’re singled out as being new, it alerts others (some who have been attending for 20+ years!) to the fact that you may be on your own. As a Swanwick Steward last year I tried to talk to every ‘white badger’ I came across, because, I knew what it felt like.
So, that’s all well and good, I guess you’re saying, but what about putting all this knowledge to good use? Where’s the novel? Am I actually any closer to becoming the publishedauthor I dream about? Well, I feel that I’ve spent the last 2 years experimenting, not really knowing which direction I should go in. I came away from Swanwick this year more focused, discovering, for example, that I’m not a short story writer. My voice has started to develop and so has my style (blogging has really helped with that…I can highly recommend it!). But there is still so much I need to learn and in the words of Albert Einstein, “I am neither especially clever nor especially gifted. I am only very very curious.”
As I sit at my desk, typing this, surrounded by piles of notebooks, folders, cats and study guides I can’t help but smile, and remember my conversation with Simon Hall, after we’d both attended Roz Southey’s “Show Not Tell” workshop in Swanwick. I jokingly commented on his attendance, saying something along the lines of “Well, you don’t need a workshop for show and tell.” He laughed and replied “You’d be surprised, I often need reminding, and there’s always something you can learn.”
So I guess I’m not alone in my quest to learn, my need to be better. My confidence increases with every course, class and workshop. And in 10 years’ time, I’ll still be learning, but hopefully, by then, I’ll have at least a couple of best sellers to my name. Oh, and if you’re thinking of coming to Swanwick next year, do, I’ll be the one with the bright yellow badge saying “STEWARD” and rescuing ‘white badgers’ when they lock themselves out of their rooms.
Vikki Thompson lives in Kent with her husband, 3 adult children (who refuse to leave home) and 2 cats. She blogs, (or should that be rambles?) daily at The View Outside and spends her time fantasising about being the next EL James but isn’t too keen on having to write Erotica to achieve that, unless Robert Downey Jnr is available for research. Next month she starts another course, with The Faber Academy and is hoping that SJ Watson won’t be too upset when she becomes the next Faber success story (tongue firmly in cheek!).