In writing a novel, it is not just your protagonist that embarks on a journey but you, walking alongside your fictional companion like a medieval hero and his chronicler. This is a long road so imagine it as you like; perhaps carrying a shield upon your back and a sword in your hand, hiking in the woods with your best friend, or maybe doggedly pushing a shopping cart with your kid through an apocalyptic wasteland armed only with a revolver and two shells.
I think it's time we explored self-publishing on this blog. I've helped enough people through it professionally, and for the first time in my writing life I've eschewed traditional publication to put a book out myself, Shark Alley. This was a project I wanted total control over, from content, structure and visual style all the way down to final word count. I also wanted to release it as a free online serial, which I was never going to get a publisher to sign off on. Also, to be honest, self-publication is presently the most realistic option for most new novelists out there. It was never easy to get traditionally published at the best of times and, believe me, these are the worse. So, if you're going to go DIY, just remember: Do it Big, Do it Right, and Do it with Style..
Last week, I brought another USW ‘How to Write a Novel’ course to an end, after three very pleasant and enjoyable months of writing and sharing. It was more a case of ‘Au Revoir’ than a fond farewell though; as always happens, friendships were forged and now we’re all linked up on Facebook, an informal writer’s group that expands with every course. Some students, meanwhile, are staying with us at the school and moving on to Ashley Stokes’ Online Workshop to develop the manuscripts they’ve been writing on my course. This happen a lot, because once people find their way to us – the friendly alternative to all those institutional and corporate creative writing programmes – they tend to stay. There’s a definite sense of family. And don’t get me wrong, we have all the knowledge and expertise of the professors, in fact some of us are professors, we just prefer to be a bit more practical and down to earth about the whole business of, you know, actually writing, rather than just talking about it.
n a blog for the Unthank School of Writing entitled 'How To Write A Novel and What It Did For Me,' student Jackie Harmon talks about the learning/teaching experience on an online creative writing course designed and taught by yours truly. The last course has just ended and places are still available on the next, which begins in May. You'll find details here. Jackie Harmon, like me, has an academic background, and is currently working on a historical novel set in the late-nineteenth century. From what I've seen so far this is going to be an impressive debut...
It’s one of life’s truisms that reading widely and critically is essential if you're serious about writing. You don’t need a degree in literature to be a critical reader; a lot of it is good, old fashioned common sense, and you’ll have most likely been reading this way naturally for years already, so naturally in fact that you might not be aware that you’re doing it. The next stage, especially if you’re beginning to write your own fiction, is to focus much more consciously on the individual components of narrative structure, and to apply this knowledge to your own writing.
I recently wrote a piece about the on-going debate regarding whether or not ‘creative writing’ can be taught, being inspired by Cheryl Whittaker’s interview with my old friend Ashley Stokes. As this is a major part of my professional life, I was, of course, arguing that it could, while suggesting that the gainsayers tend to confuse the art with the craft.
When I consider the sheer volume of creative writing courses, masterclasses, retreats, manuscript assessment and ‘author solutions’ services currently available to aspiring authors (for example when I can’t sleep), I am often reminded of the rapid rise of Spiritualism in the 1850s, a process that the mathematician Augustus De Morgan likened to the spread of smallpox.
First off, let me just thank each and every one of you for such a positive and enthusiastic response to my post on ‘Top Ten Writing Mistakes.’ For a new blog the response was overwhelming – I think more people read this than all of my academic publications combined. It just goes to show what you can achieve if you distil your life’s work into ten bullet points. Point Number Nine (‘Bad Sex’) seemed to have touched a nerve, and I have more to say on the subject, but not today...