It’s Monday again! I mean, I can be happy about this because I’m currently road-tripping my way through ye olde U-S-of-A (and knowing me, probably drowning in a pile of uni work), but I hope you’re all happy about it too. Especially since you’re reading this post. Yay! Hurray! Read on, brave visitor!
So then, enough joviality. To business. The other day, I was scrolling mindlessly through Facebook (as one does when one should be reading, or writing, or studying… or really anything except scrolling mindlessly through Facebook) and stumbled upon a bit of a sales pitch for a writing course. I actually really love the literary page that was doing said sprucing, but I disagreed with the premise. It went something like this:
Is your New Year’s resolution to get writing again? Or to finally finish that project you’ve been working on for years? Enrol in a writing course at….
Now, before anyone gets out their pitchforks, I’ll happily concede that that’s a pretty kind of standard sell. In fact, I really liked this later bit:
Transform your ideas into a novel, short story, TV script, or nonfiction essay, while getting feedback from our dedicated instructors and a talented group of peers
I mean, that sounds pretty good to me, especially the bit about feedback from instructors and peers. That stuff is pretty crucial to self-development! And I’m actually not against this particular course, it just made me think about the contemporary fascination with doing courses to ‘teach us how to write’. Eeeek, sorry. I just don’t buy it. Do you want to start writing? Do you have a New Year’s Resolution to start writing again?
Don’t second guess yourself. Don’t ask yourself if your work is any good. Just bloody write. Just do it. [Disclaimer: that’s not my catchphrase. Thanks Nike for letting me borrow it for this post, even if it was expensive.] Where did this idea that we need to be taught to write come from? Plenty of people have done a truckload of writing without ever being ‘taught’ (though they may have been guided/developed throughout their career). My thoughts are this: if we want something badly enough, like really, really want it, we’ll do it.
I’m not in any way saying that it’s not intimidating to get started. I’m also not saying that I’ve never done any writing courses: I did one at University of Adelaide and I am enrolled in a number of different courses at UNE that include writing and story-telling. But the biggest things that I took out of all of these is that in order to write, and be a good writer… You have to write. The best take away I got from my first creative writing course at university was to write every day. First thing in the morning if possible. I know everyone in the world has heard this story a million times, but I just started writing for ten minutes at a time as soon as I got up on whatever I could think of. Maybe it was the vestiges of a dream, or something that caught my eye, or a flare of an idea that I snagged and refused to let go. Over time, I built that up to half an hour every morning. I slept with my notebook and pen by my bed so I could just roll over and write.
Was it good? Heck no. Some of it was complete and utter crap. Some of it always will be. But I got some cool ideas out of it that I’m still thinking about and developing into stories. And that’s really the challenge: finding something to write about. But I found that the more I wrote, and the more I refused to stop writing (even when all I was writing was a description of a chest of drawers), the more my brain created magic in the mundane.
I began to ask more questions of the world as I walked through it. I began to see more in what was happening around me. I noticed the way a single bird dive-bombed the pavement like a WWII fighter jet while we were in a cafe having breakfast. I saw that the woman walking left to right had bare legs in the middle of winter, while the two men coming the opposite way looked like Arctic explorers. I threw words together in patterns that worked and patterns that didn’t, and my mind began to capture perfect images to use later. I have a OneNote section that is dedicated to ‘thoughts’. Some of those are little more five word phrases, but the imagery sticks in my mind long after I click away.
And you know what else?
Read widely. Read books you want to read, and sometimes make yourself read books you don’t necessarily want to read. Read easy books and hard books. Read Dostoyevsky and Bronte. Read Kate Elliott. Read Patricia Cornwell, Michael Connelly, Somerset Maugham, Joyce Carol Oates, Tim Winton, Stephen King, Tolkien, Dickens, Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, JK Rowling, Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Margaret Atwood, James Fenimore Cooper, Maya Angelou, Cormac McCarthy, John Steinbeck, Pasternak, H.G. Wells… I mean, good god, I could be here forever (and now all I want to do is go and curl up with a book and a hot chocolate—my to-read list is completely untenable). But my point is, reading is an escape for your soul. It’s not only good for you, but it’s a journey and it’s a learning process, and it is essential for writers. Besides, if you can go out and read all of those books and not learn something about writing, then perhaps you’re an android (and since I’m writing a novella about an android, I’d like to interview you: please get in touch).
I still think about the way that Pasternak describes the soft legs of a newborn foal, and the worlds that Atwood so chillingly portrays. I take note of the way they’ve done things and crafted scenes, words, ideas, and I consider how best to achieve a similar effect.
Creative writing courses are an incredible place to learn skills you may not necessarily have or ones that need to be honed (though I’d argue that a lot of that learning can still be achieved through reading), or to show you the places in which your writing needs development, or to point you gently in the right direction… But motivational courses that help you write? You don’t need that. Sure, it can feel like your brain is empty, but just try to write something. And if you’re really stuck, there are some awesome textbooks out there that can help too. Sometimes the best way they help is just telling you to do an exercise: like write 200 words of the beginning of a science-fiction story (yep, that’s how my android novella idea was originally born).
If you want it, do it. It sounds obtuse, like I’m making it overly simple, but at the end of the day, it IS simple. If you want to write, write. Write every day for ten minutes, just to get you started out. Write without self-doubt or self-censure: decide that you are going to write to develop yourself and you’re going to allow yourself to be imperfect.
I promise that if you do that, you’ll improve. And if you’re worried that you’re no good, don’t. We’re all in this together: we’re all learning. I believe in you.
So go and pick up your pen.
[Full image credit to The Australian Writers’ Centre Facebook Page: thanks for always providing great reminders like this!]