My first contribution to the new look Pink Heart Society is a Date With Kate on Writer's Wednesday. And as I have some writing courses coming up, I thought I'd offer some advice on how to choose one which works best for you.
It happens every year. I’m fine through July, August – they’re summer months. Then the clock ticks past midnight between August and September – and suddenly everything changes. I regress to being back at school, or university. I see all the ‘ Back to School’ or ‘New Term, New School Year’ signs in the shops. Even worse, those signs are on the stationery sections of shops or . . .in stationery shops. And then they add ‘Three for the Price of Two’ in Notebooks or ‘Buy One Get One Free’ for pens – or pencils – or post-it notes . . .and I’m lost.
It's one of the reasons I’m glad I started teaching. I never wanted to be a teacher but ever since the 12 Point Guide To WritingRomance was first published, I seem to be asked to teach – and do more teaching ... and then even more.
So here I am, New Year, New Term – and I have the perfect excuse to Buy One. Get One Free or pick up three-for-two.
But as I planned the courses I’m running between now and Christmas, a question I was asked made me stop and think. How do you know which course is for you? What is the best course for the stage of your writing career you’re at right now? There are plenty of courses on offer – so how do you choose?
How much you can afford to pay, for one. And how far you can travel for another. There are courses for every possible writers’ budget – you can pay a small fortune, or you can go on a more basic event. It all depends on whether you want the luxury, the surroundings – or if you realize most of the time you’re going to be in a teaching situation – focused (hopefully!) on learning - so it doesn't really matter what your surroundings are like.
The courses I’m involved with–Writers’ Holiday, Fishguard Writing Weekend, Relax and Write–are, I think, a fair compromise. There’s a comfortable hotel with a glorious view of the sea (Fishguard) or 9 acres of wooded grounds (Weetwood Hall) but the price isn't going to break the bank. You can pick what suits you.
But really, the content of the course is more important.
When you’re planning on booking, make sure you do your research. Do you know who is running the course and their publishing history? Do they have books published in the genre or type of fiction you want to write? And do they have a reputation for being able to teach? The biggest problem with a creative writing course is there in those two words – creative people aren't always the best teachers. And just because someone is a writer, doesn't mean they can teach other people to do it.
You also need to know what sort of course will suit you. Do you want to sit and be told lots of things like a student at a lecture? Or do you learn best by doing – getting your hands on the keyboard and putting down words?
Then you have to think about whether you'd like to be involved in a large group so you can make friends and learn from other people as they ask questions and discuss this slightly crazy writing addiction you all share. Or would you rather have one-to-ones with your tutor, talk about your writing and go to the quiet of your room to put those ideas into practice?
Do you want a course that’s filled with learning and discovery from start to finish? Or one where you are set your own writing tasks and settle down to fulfill them?
This month, I’m running a writing retreat in Weetwood Hall that’s very different from my basic ‘Writing Romantic Fiction’ course and the ‘Advanced Writing Romance’ course which I've set up at Fishguard for an intensive weekend in February. Those ‘teaching courses’ mean I do a lot of talking and explaining. I set some writing exercises but only a few used as examples. For this retreat, the focus is on having some time and peace and quiet for yourself, because let’s face it, isn't that what every would-be writer is desperate for? Time and peace to write while someone else provides the food and does all the cooking, the washing up? My role is simply to provide professional help – guidance in discussions about the chapters my students have submitted - and I’m available for everyone to ask questions if they need to.
The other thing this kind of weekend teaches you is the importance of commitment – that BICHOK thing - bum in chair, hands on keyboards. Unfortunately, however good a course may be, the problem is you can have so much fun talking about writing you don’t end up doing any of that thing which gets a book created – adding one word after another, after another, after another...
So, my advice?
If you’re interested in booking a course, do your homework before you sign on the dotted line. Make sure it’s a course which matches your level of knowledge, interest and writing experience.
Get value for your money.
These are much more important things to consider than wonderful weather or glorious surroundings. You can’t take the scenery home with you. But you can take the buzz and inspiration which comes from discovering new things about yourself as a writer and the skills you’re trying to master.
I’m speaking from experience. Every time I run a course, I come home fired up with enthusiasm and inspiration. I meet people like me who ‘get’ this whole writing thing. We have fascinating debates and discussions (some of the best take place in the bar in the evenings!) And so often when I’m teaching, I suddenly find a knot in my current WIP has come untied or I'll have a brilliant ‘light bulb moment’ that means I know exactly where my hero and heroine are going next.
I love my teaching, which is surprising when I really never wanted to be a teacher. at all. I meet interesting people - talk about this craft I love - have a lot of laughs. I've made some real friends and enjoy seeing students come back on a course again as they progress in their writing.
The best thing of all is watching past students succeed and become published authors in their own right. That's just so special. I have two courses coming up – in September and October - and then some more planned for next year and really, I just can’t wait.
What would you like to learn about writing? Which teaching method suits you best? Is there anything you'd like some help with? If there's a particular topic you'd like us to cover on the PHS, let us know in the comments!
And the new, revised, updated Kindle edition of Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance is now available on Amazon at a much lower price than the old paperback. So if you haven't already got a copy, what are you waiting for?