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Sometimes you need to refresh the Muse and deepen your knowledge by learning from professionals.
I am a learning addict and a few weeks ago I went on a Guardian Masterclass on Creative Writing.
The Guardian is a fantastic British newspaper and media company and I have been a dedicated reader for many years. The weekend was taught by some wonderful writers and I learned a great deal.
The notes below are from my diary and are a combination of things people said and my own thoughts. I won't attribute them specifically as my notes are often re-interpretations of what people say and not direct quotes.
- People over-analyze their reasons for writing. Just write. Stop fretting and get on with it. After a year or two of writing, people generally decide whether they want to be serious about it and commit to a more professional career.
- Most people quite like the idea of writing but most don't take the risk.
- People ask about the discipline of writing, but it's not about discipline, it's about passion. It's what you love. It's engagement and obsession.
- A novel is labor intensive. You have to put the hours in and it takes more time than you think.
- The reader is most important. You need to guide them through your material. It's not therapy.
- The moment you share your work with someone else, it changes your own perspective. It's important to find the right people to share your work with.
- Create a character that represents a part of you that needs to speak.
- You need a lot of good material for a book. It's not just in your head, you need to find it. Life is research.
- There are many good ideas, but what is a good idea for you?
- What is in your range as a writer? This changes over time e.g. The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas is multiple first person viewpoints. It's a stretch for most people.
- If you bore the reader, you're dead. There's no message. It's entertainment. Readers are demanding. They want a good time. They aren't reading for you, but for themselves. The book must be more interesting that every day life.
- To make a living out of writing takes a lot of books, over time, consistently. What will you give up for this type of career?
- The publishing industry is deluged in mediocrity. Don't be one of the masses. It's boldness you want.
- Without difficulties, the book is nothing. It's the friction that creates the pearl.
- The book is an X-ray of your psyche at one point in time
- The first draft is awful. It still is for pro-writers. But until you've got something to work with, you don't know what you're interested in.
- Books love time. They soak it up.
- If you're a woman writing a man, just write it as a woman and then change the name. We are not so different. People are people. Concentrate on what is shared, rather than what separates.
- “We do not see things as they are, but as we are.” The Talmud.
- Why do people have to explain before they read their writing. Just read it and we will judge what we hear. Don't justify. Just read.
- Assume intelligence on the reader's part. Don't overstate.
- ‘Why write? Why breathe?” Katherine Mansfield
- Memory can be lazy so note-taking is important. One small thing can open up a whole world.
- A reader has a body, so include the whole body in description. Use exact details of all senses.
- Distinguish between plot (how you communicate to the reader) and themes (your own private business). It's easier to talk about themes, but actually it's best to tell people about the plot. Theme is nebulous and universal. Plot is specific and (hopefully) unique. The more concrete and rooted the plot is in your pitch, the more likely a publisher will be interested.
- The response of an agent or editor to your writing is instinctual. If they don't like it, that's because there isn't a good fit between you. So move on to another agent. Agents and editors are passionate readers who are always looking for authors who resonate with them.
- To be published these days doesn't mean you need to have a publisher put a physical book in a physical bookstore.
- With badly written books, it's obvious that the author doesn't really read. To improve, you must read. 90% of submissions are poor quality.
- Having a great sentence encapsulating your book will help all the way through the publishing process.
Do any of these statements resonate with you?
Images are my own. Flickr Creative Commons.