At the moment, I’m currently studying semester 3 on an MA Creative Writing course, something which I wish I’d done decades ago. Okay decade ago, decades I was still doing adequately on my GCSEs. While I gained all my GCSEs and two A-Levels (Geology and Biology at a D – rock nerd!) I single-handedly left university in a blaze of silence after five weeks, when my Applied Biology and Psychology programme also added a year of Environmental Studies as a random and unwanted bonus. After five weeks, I had four assignments, two for the subject I had no interest in, and so I left, and continued with the TA, something I did until March last year.
While I was doing my A-Levels, I started writing a story, which I loved, on my pal’s word processor, it was like a typrewriter, but it had a small rectangular LCD screen and printed things directly out the back of it. From this I wrote 333 pages of sub-par marvellousness. There was plot (ish) there, characters and silliness, but all in all, it wasn’t the best. In fact if I read it now I’d probably go hot, and then want to set it on fire so no one could ever see it. I re-wrote it from start to finish in 2011, and self-published it as ‘The Good, the Mad and the Undead’, as the second part of the Heist Too Far trilogy, the three novels of which, I’m re-writing.
I carried on writing, and ended up with a series of short comic sci-fi stories, again, being re-written, a series of stories about a Dwarf P.I., again, being re-written (see a trend here), a fantasy story based on my time in the Gulf, and numerous ideas that have been toyed with and tinkered with for years. With my obvious lack of knowledge, I wasn’t aware what needs to be done with novels, editing, re-drafting, and I found the internet a mine field of contradictory information and things that I found infuriating. Prime examples of this being ’10 things you should never do in a fantasy novel’ lists, which would often be similar to someone else’s ’10 things you should always do in a fantasy novel’. I received an email off another writer, saying I needed to make a fantasy world my own, yet changing ork (called so as the country I write about has largely Germanic names) to orc in every instance, making a small change to make it a standard fantasy name (so not that much if my own world…?). Admittedly, the writer missed the irony and humour in the tale, which was about a stereotyped group of adventurers.
What irked me most about articles like this, was; as a writer with no real idea of writing professionally, everyone said different things. Everyone referenced different places about what to do, why you should do it, when, were, who, etc, but there was no real ‘source’ for everything writey. If there is, it wasn’t easily found, and, disheartened, I just self-published two, and sat on the rest.
After managing to get onto the MA Creative Writing course at LJMU in 2013, I’ve found my knowledge of planning and writing novels has grown a ridiculous amount, and as the course progresses, I’ve found that I’m becoming more and more aware of the different aspects to writing, and pitching, and all that kind of thing. I’ve become more aware of the different ways people get published, or found, through competitions and web pages (although I’m told webpage finds occur less nowadays).
While I have a pal who’s on a Creative Writing course elsewhere (hey T-Bird!), none that I’ve heard of seem to gear up students in quite the same way. Author James Friel, poet Andrew McMillan (the first person to manage to get me into poetry…) and screenwriter/novelist Jeff Young have so far been our tutors, each exceptional in their chosen creative field, and each ridiculously knowledgeable when it comes down to questions and answers. The support from each has been brilliant, and each has given very different but well-informed reasons for their answers for any questions we have had. Also, regarding critiquing work, and feedback from assignments (so far mainly creative pieces), direction and suggestions have continually improved my writing, to a point where I now know I need to re-write everything.
We’ve also had a multitude of different novelists, poets and such come in, such as Caroline Smailes, Kate Long, Peter Salmon, Clare Shaw to name but a few. Okay, okay, I can’t remember the others, but they have all been great, with each bringing something new to the table, which has helped my writing in a certain way.
The past few weeks we’ve been pitching and practising pitching. It sounds wank, but it’s actually quite amusing. Each time I’ve pitched I’ve seen the subtle improvements from the time before, and it’s slowly getting easier. Last night we pitched to, and received advice from, the wonderful Caroline Smailes (Hey Caroline!), and despite meeting her previously at the Pulp Idol competition, and at a writing workshop, I found myself nervous as hell pitching. Still, in for a penny, in for a pound. Pitch given, feedback and advice gratefully received.
Workshops throughout the course have us critiquing each other’s work, and I’ve learned a silly amount from the other writers. Each brings ideas points about where improvements can be made, or, a different style or viewpoint, that often the other won’t have thought about. Superb.
So far I’m loving the course, and learning more than I thought there was to learn. Best of all though, it’s improving my writing amazingly. One day, if you read any of my work, there’ll be a bloody massive thank you list somewhere in it, because I don’t think I could have improved and gotten to where I am without the help of everyone involved.
P.s. I always said I’d stop writing when it became less fun and more like work, but even now, redrafting, editing and changing things entirely is still more fun than actual work.