clhollandwriter: (Default)
2017-08-22 05:59 pm

Swanwick Writers' Summer School: Day Four

Tuesday is traditionally the day off, with a minimum of activities and lots of potential for free time. This year there was a short course in the morning, instead of the usual panels and speakers, with a choice of pitching, research, grammar, and mindfulness. I went for mindfulness, as this is something I'd like to bring more into my life. There were several exercises, and the tutor Zana Lamont emphasised the importance of kindness, to ourselves as well as others. The session ended late, with the class engrossed in a video that had half of the delegates in tears by the end.



Alongside the courses ran the Procrastination Free Day, which as in previous years locked two groups of writers in a room to challenge themselves to meet wordcount goals. Several of the other delegates also achieved this by locking themselves in their bedrooms to write, and as a result the bar was surprisingly quiet.

After lunch, overlapping with the end of PFD, were the rehearsals for Page to Stage. I opted to spend most of the rest of the day in my room, binge-reading and also writing a poem for the following day's poetry session. After travel and some heavy socialising it was nice to have some quiet time to myself.

In the evening there was a "chat show" hosted by Simon Hall and interviewing several of the course tutors, followed in the evening by the buskers' night. I skipped both of these as I'd already decided that, this time, it was going to be a true day off.

clhollandwriter: (Default)
2017-08-20 04:43 pm

Swanwick Writers' Summer School: Day Two

The first full day of Swanwick means choosing a specialist course, one of the long courses that runs throughout the week.
On offer this year were Writing Popular Fiction, Fiction for Children and Young People, Scriptwriting, Non Fiction, and A Year in Poetry.

After the morning session I took myself off to the Book Room, and was glad to see the secondhand table was a hit this year. This is where delegates can donate books about writing they no longer want, and can take some of the offerings in return for a donation to the school. I picked up a copy of The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman, and from the delegates' books a copy of A Route Map to Novel Writing Success: How to Write a Novel Using the Waypoint Method by David Hough.

The short courses for the day were Short Stories, Forensics and CSI, My Voice Will Go With You (about finding your writer's voice) and The Inner Game. The latter was about silencing the monkey mind, the inner critic, and challenging the things it comes up with. Easier said than done, but I learned a useful technique which came in useful later in the week.

As always there was a Facebook and Twitter reception in the main lounge during the afternoon tea break. I intended to go, but got distracted on the way by coffee and chatting, and only remembered an hour later when I saw the pictures on Facebook.

There were three workshops on offer, on running a creative writers' group, journalism, and a briefing for Page to Stage for casting the performances that would take place later in the week. This is the slot I usually sacrifice for quiet time, so I headed back to my room to read before dinner.

Dinner started with a small group of us in the bar celebrating the sale of Val Penny's novel Hunter's Chase to Crooked Cat Books. Then dinner, and our evening speaker Sophie Hannah. She was hilarious and informative, with anecdotes on the inspiration behind her first book and how she came to be writing Poirot continuation novels. Unlike the previous speaker, she's a plotter and outlines her books to within an inch of their life. It works for her - she's nothing if not prolific - but it's not a method of writing I get on with.

After the speaker I took in the start of the poetry open mic, but didn't have the stamina to stick out the whole thing so headed off to bed.

clhollandwriter: (Default)
2017-08-19 04:55 pm

Swanwick Writers' Summer School: Day One

I am, once again, blogging a week late. I took my tablet and some good intentions, but didn't switch it on all week.

The trip up was mercifully uneventful, and we found ourselves outside Derby station waiting for the coach. And waiting. When it eventually arrived it turned out to have been designed for children, in rows of five tiny and uncomfortable seats. I wonder in hindsight if the coach company saw the booking and assumed school meant children, but they've provided coach services often enough in the past to know better.

We arrived late, but there was still enough time to unpack before the Chairman's Welcome. After that was dinner, and our first experience of the new buffet-style dining. I loved it. There was a choice of main (generally two meat, one fish, one veggie), two choices of carbohydrates (potato and rice or pasta) and two vegetable choices. Despite having to queue, everyone was served quickly which left us with plenty of free time before the speaker. This was something that often came up in conversation during the week - how much extra time we found ourselves with, because of that one simple change. It also meant there was a choice of desserts, which usually alternated between multiple cakes, or a choice of cold desserts (including fruit), and one hot option. The down side of this was I ate more puddings than at previous Swanwicks, the up side that several of these were fruit rather than cake.

After dinner was the evening speaker, crime writer Stephen Booth, who was excellent. I don't read a lot of crime (although I'm starting to) but it's always nice to hear other writers' processes - and he's most definitely a pantser. I went along to the book signing and picked up a copy of Dancing with the Virgins, the second in his Cooper and Fry series, which I then spent the rest of the week reading instead of writing.

As always, I headed to bed early as even uneventful travel is tiring and there was a busy week ahead.

clhollandwriter: (Default)
2017-07-29 11:37 am

Swanwick Writers' Summer School: Another Guide

Further to last year's First Timer's Guide, here's a few more hints and tips to make the week easier for even seasoned Swanwickers. Because let's face it, we all forget this stuff.

1. Bring any writing-related books you no longer need - You can donate them to the school for sale in the Book Room, to raise funds for the school. Bringing them with you automatically frees up the space in your luggage and on your bookshelves for all the books you'll buy at Swanwick.
2. The Hayes gift shop is generally open during the tea and coffee breaks on the programme - You may rarely catch it outside these hours, but generally the tea and coffee breaks are the time to visit. I mention it because I spoke to a Swanwick regular last year who, not realising the opening hours, kept missing it.
3. There is a games room - There's also a giant outdoor chess set in the Quad. It you find yourself with nothing to do (it could happen!), you could play a game.
4. All floors in Lakeside are accessible from ground level - It just depends on which floor you're on and where in the building. As a general rule: rooms on the ground floor are accessible from the far right entrance; rooms on the first floor are accessible from the middle entrance (for the Alan Booth Centre); and rooms on the second floor are accessible from the lefthand entrance (past the Main Conference Hall). Of course, if your room is on the opposite side of the building it may be quicker to take the stairs.
5. The Hayes has at least two bookcases of books for sale - For the price of a donation in the charity tin, you can help yourself. One is opposite the shop, the other in the Lakeside foyer.
6. If you leave dinner at the last minute, you won't have time to get to the loo before the speaker - Seriously, if you're likely to need the toilet in the next hour and a half, leave dinner early. The queues are pretty much what you'd expect from a convention of writers who've been drinking coffee all day and have just started on the wine.
7. Pack layers - Typically for British summers it may or may not be sunny/rainy/stormy/snowing. Plus the Main Conference Hall and some of the other teaching rooms are freezing in the morning, but quickly heat up once they get full of people. You will ultimately be more comfortable if your wear layers so you can take some clothes off without scandalising anyone.
8. The coffee in the bar is better than the coffee in the rooms - If you plan on heading back to your room to get some writing done, take the coffee with you. If you want to get decent coffee in the mornings, leave a little early.
9. If you don't like coffee there are about eight different types of tea - So there's no need to bring teabags with you unless you're particularly fussy. They're in the bar area by the coffee machines and include decaff options (the rooms only have regular). If you're more of a tea drinker, think about taking some tea bags back to your room.
10. The noticeboard in the Vinery is a good place to plan extracurricular events - Last year, we had matchmaking for people who wanted to go on excursions, and an impromptu class on mindfulness. You can also speak to the committee about making an announcement.

clhollandwriter: (Default)
2017-06-22 08:09 pm
Entry tags:

The Paying Market Hippogriff

I've seen, two or three times this month, writers saying that non-paying markets are the norm. There seems to be this myth that paying markets are few and far between, and that's really not the case. I suspect this is a form of The Tiffany Problem: people "know" that markets don't pay because that's what common knowledge says. But the reality is that there are plenty of paying markets out there if you know where to look.

This varies across genres, and non- paying markets seem to be far more prevalent in literary and poetry circles than speculative fiction. Here's the thing: a number of literary and poetry journals don't pay because they're a labour of love. For example journals run by universities, staffed by students, without the budget to pay writers. Some of these are more prestigious than others, and sometimes it's worth not getting paid for appearing in a highly regarded journal or magazine. However sometimes these markets are simply a guy with a blog, posting stories for fun.

There are several ways to look for paying markets. Many writing magazines (certainly here in the UK) include a section of listings. The drawback to this is that you have to wade through all of them, whether or not they're relevant. This is also the case with books like The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook and Poet's Market, with the addition that these quickly go out of date.

Fortunately there are a number of ways to search online:

General market databases
Duotrope - Duotrope contains a searchable database that lets you look for markets by genre and pay rate, among other variables. It leans more towards poetry and literary markets, and has a subscription fee of $5 a month.
The Submissions Grinder - Although technically still in beta, this is a a perfectly functional site with another searchable database. It tends to skew more towards speculative fiction since that's where it originated and where most of the user base lies, but has recently started populating poetry markets and does have a fairly big catalogue of non-genre markets. It's also free.

Both sites also allow for tracking of submissions.

Paying Publications allows for very basic search filtering, and allows for searching of paying poetry markets based on whether a poem is new/already published, already under submission somewhere else, and whether or not the poet is established.
Poets and Writers has a basic searchable database - which doesn't allow for searching by pay rate (see above regarding literary markets!)

Blogs and list sites:
There are also a number of blogs and listing sites that are a useful resource even if not searchable. These are often genre specific.
Dark Markets is for horror markets and offers a very basic filter by publication type (anthology, podcast, etc).
My Little Corner is a blog by author Sandra Seamans that focuses on crime and mystery markets.
Womagwriter is aimed at women's magazine fiction.
Ralan is for speculative fiction markets.

Poet Alison runs the Creative Writing Opportunities List, although please note you need to be logged in to Yahoo to access this.

Facebook groups
There are also several groups you can join on Facebook where opportunities are posted, both paying and non-paying.
Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Pulp Markets.
Horror.
Crime, Thriller, Mystery Markets.
Poetry, Fiction, Art.

And this one specifically for paying markets.

So, there are plenty of opportunities out there!

If you want to submit to a non-paying market, that's up to you. Sometimes the prestige or opportunity to support a charity is worth the loss of payment. You might not be interested in publishing for money. But please, whatever you do, don't give your work away for free because you don't think anyone will pay, because that's simply not true.

With thanks to Helena Bell and Dan Stout for additional links. Further suggestions welcome in the comments.

clhollandwriter: (Default)
2017-06-08 01:29 pm
Entry tags:

May Update

Even less done in May than April, it feels. I did work on the novella until mid month, but stalled when I hit the contest deadline and there wasn't a sense of urgency any more. I've worked on a couple of poems since, but not much else. I've worked on a couple of beading projects and read some books, but no writing. Work is busy and eating a lot of my bandwidth at the moment. Not much of an update, but that's it.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
2017-05-01 12:09 pm
Entry tags:

April Update

I don't feel like I've done much over April. My novella is nowhere near as far along as it should be and I may be too far behind to catch up ( it needs to be finished in two weeks). But when I looked at my calendar I realised I'd written 50% of the days last month so I'm counting it as a win.

It's tough to get back in the habit of writing regularly, especially when working hours aren't regular. It's impossible to set up a routine if I can't guarantee I'll have writing time before work, after work, or at lunch time, or if I'll have to cook  and/or do housework in the evenings. Since my hours vary week to week, I'm just starting to get into a routine when it all changes. Younger me didn't mind so much; today me is fed up with one more thing to keep track of. I feel like I'm wasting mental energy having to remember what time I need to leave the house this week, if I need to take breakfast, do I need to put laundry on before I leave or will there be time to do it when I get home, will I have time to cook and if not do we have soup in, what time should I get to bed.

I'm honestly thinking of writing timings down in my Bullet Journal to save me the bother of remembering. It certainly works for to do lists.

Since it's a bank holiday I'm using today to catch up on writing and blogging, and trying out an experiment in making writing at home like writing at a coffee shop. Although it will be a cat cafe, obviously. More on that later.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
2017-04-11 07:25 pm
Entry tags:

Welcome to my Dreamwidth

So this is my first post on my new Dreamwidth journal, and I don't have a lot to post about. I'm plodding my way through a novella, so behind my intended wordcount that I'm not even going to post a status update. I could probably be doing more in the evenings, but it's hard to get up the motivation after a day at work.

For those who aren't aware, there's a mass exodus from LiveJournal due to their new terms of service. More info here, and here. LJ had been getting quieter anyway as people drifted, but this has prompted a lot of the last holdouts to leave. I do miss the days of community and chatter, so I'm hoping things will perk up over here. I just have to find everyone...

clhollandwriter: (Default)
2017-04-03 09:34 am

March Update

My February #12for12 piece "Essence" was published over at Riddled with Arrows. It's a market that specialises in meta-fiction - writing about writing - so the story is little more than an extended literary joke, but I like it. Not least because I was experimenting with different formats earlier in the year, something flash makes easy to play with, so it's told through the medium of an internet chat log.

Very little writing done in March, other than getting the other oubliette piece out, as mentioned before. Towards the end of the month I wrote a poem, then finished it off and submitted it over the weekend so it counts for April's #12for12. I'm supposed to be spending the next six weeks writing a novella at the rate of 400 words a day, but I had an otherwise rough weekend so I'm already two days behind. It doesn't help that I don't have a name for my main character yet (or even an idea why they're the main character, I'm not sure they are), or an opening scene. I've a good idea where I'm going, just not where to start.

At this point it's still possible to catch up, but I'd better get started soon.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
2017-03-12 03:49 pm
Entry tags:

Random Update-Shaped Thing

I've decided to mix things up with my writing magazine subscriptions. I did subscribe to Writing Magazine and Mslexia, but I've got to the point where I no longer look forward to the new issue of Writing Magazine. In fact, when the current issue arrived I thought "oh god, another one" since I still had the previous two on the go. The content has become decreasingly useful - it seems like it's all article writing, and apparenty no venues for short fiction exist except competitions. The only reason I was still getting it was for the market info in the back, but that's become less and less useful since usually I know about a deadline two months before it actually appears in the magazine.

So I've cancelled my subscription. I'm keeping Mslexia, since I do still look forward to that. And since I want to read things that will help with writing short fiction, I paid for a year's subscription to F&SF and ordered the bumper-pack of 8 back issues of Asimov's/Analog. At the very least I'll get something worth reading out of it.

I've also managed to edit and submit the other oubliette piece for #12for12. I really need to start writing some non-flash this year now.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
2017-03-05 02:45 pm
Entry tags:

February Update

One of the stories that was supposed to be going in the oubliette ended up being my February #12For12, and should be published online later this month. Which was a good start to February, but unfortunately I got very little else done. My day job goes in peaks and troughs in terms of how busy we are, and unfortunately my department is staffed with the bare minimum of people at the moment. As a result we're all run off our feet because we're currently in a peak. It should tell you all you need to know that our productivity is expected to run consistently at around 114%, since the software that works all this out apparently hasn't figured out that we're people and not robots.

Cue coming home exhausted and collapsing on the sofa most evenings.

So I haven't written anything else since the end of January, and since I plan to take March off just to read I might not write anything this month either. Although I might be writing a novella in April, so I'll try not to be too hard on myself.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
2017-02-05 05:09 pm

Bullet Journal - One Month Update

It's been a month since I started using a bullet journal, so I thought it was time for an update.

I'm still using and loving it. It's helped to keep me organised, and remember to do things that would otherwise slip off the radar. The only thing that's missing is submission deadlines, since they're in the diary I bought last year. As I suspected it's becoming a pain having two separate planners, so I'm going to start putting the deadlines into the bullet journal too. Maybe not all of them to start with, just the ones I've actually decided to write for, but that could change. We'll see how it goes.

I've started using the back as a scrapbook for ticket stubs and the like. There's only a ticket for Rogue One at the moment, but I'm sure it'll fill up over the year. Again, I don't want more than one notebook on the go.

I managed to write three pieces of flash in January but two of them are probably going straight in the oubliette. It's not a great start to #12for12, but I think the other's salvageable so there's that.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
2017-01-15 10:00 am
Entry tags:

#12For12

As part of my plan to get my writing more organised I've signed up for #12For12 - twelve stories in twelve months. The rules are flexible, so I'm choosing to interpret them as a finished story a month. Since I'm trying to build up an inventory of longer stories only three of them can be flash fiction. I'm currently trying to clear out my inventory of older unfinished stories, so I expect a few of those to creep in, but I also want to produce new work. (I've got something in the works at the moment, but don't expect that to be finished until February.)

I'm trying not to think too much about publication at this point. What's important is to get it written.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
2017-01-02 10:06 am

Bullet Journal

I haven't made new year's resolutions, as such - since we're a low fat, low alcohol household for reasons of health, giving up things seems both redundant and likely to be miserable. But I try to start the year by having a clear out, and making plans for the months ahead.

Last year I posted about my motivational stickers, which worked up to a point, but this year I need something else to help keep me organised. Since I tend to carry a notebook around anyway, I've decided to give bullet journal a try. It's a sort of combination of all-purpose notebook and diary, so will hopefully allow me to keep track of things.

I particularly like the idea of indexing, to keep track of several projects at once. I've written up the suggested format, including the diary logs, although I already have a diary so may use that instead rather than scheduling things into the journal. I bought Mslexia's writers' diary, and want to get the use out of it. Plus every week has a handy blank page, in which I write all the interesting submission deadlines for that week (whether or not I've decided to write for them). I think that might clog up a bullet journal, since so many of the deadlines whoosh by Douglas Adams style - even with the best of intentions I can't write for all of them!

So I'll probably keep the diary for deadlines and appointments, and use the journal to keep track of writing projects, noodling, and those things I plan to do but haven't scheduled yet. I'm halfway to using that format anyway.

Amanda Hackwith has this interesting blog post about how she customised the format to fit with her writing life. I'll probably do something similar, although the colour coding seems like a bit much effort. I can always put my stickers in, instead.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
2017-01-01 10:09 am

Build Your Own MA - Part 4 - Other Things

While I was writing the other posts, I had some ideas that didn't fit anywhere else so here they are in the final post in the series.

Talk to Other Students
On a taught MA there would be other students to talk to, and online courses often have associated forums. You could join a local writing group or, if looking for something more specific to your interests, there are plenty of free online writing groups and forums based round specific genres. There are also organisations you could join and use to meet and network with like-minded writers, such as SCWBI for children's writers, although many of these aren't free and some have requirements like qualifying sales.

Set Yourself Homework
Although you'll probably have a main project, you might decide to start it after some initial reading or want some shorter exercises for a change of pace. There are many books out there that offer creative writing exercises, without having to get bogged down. Some I've seen recommended are Steering the Craft by Ursula LeGuin, Now Write! edited by Sherry Ellis, and The Creative Writing Coursebook edited by Julia Bell and Paul Magrs (full disclosure - I haven't tried these, although I do own all three).

Be Flexible
Life happens. You might find yourself faced with illness or moving house, and that can throw the best made plans into chaos. The beauty of setting your own timescales is you can park the study if needs be - without losing thousands of pounds in tuition fees! There's nothing to stop you shifting the emphasis onto reading for a month, or making notes for your project, or extending your timeline by an extra six weeks. There's nothing to stop you deciding you've made a wrong turn, and you don't want to write a short story collection retelling Bible stories from the point of view of rabbits after all. The important thing is to keep moving forward with your goals, however you can.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
2016-12-31 05:16 pm

End of Year Stats

It's that time of year again, when everybody posts up what they've been up to for the last twelve months.

I haven't been keeping track of words, but here's the basics:
Submissions: 20 (4 still pending)
Sales: 1

So it's not been a great year, since last year I had 68 submissions and 7 sales. However, at least part of this is because of the way Real Life has shaken out. At the beginning of the year I was going through the final stages of training in my new job, so I took March off writing to just read. Then in April we decided to start looking for a house. The looking, and the buying, and the moving, pretty much swallowed the next four months. Then I moved internally at work (same job, different department), which meant a whole readjustment to being back on the phones and shifts. Things didn't really settle down again until September.

I don't really have an excuse for why I've been so rubbish from September onwards, other than that by this point I was just tired. I didn't even particularly enjoy Swanwick Writers' Summer School this time around, between the terrible food and lack of mental energy to deal two hundred other people. Not having much in the way of real holiday all year didn't help (most of it was spent packing, or moving house).

Things I have written this year:
Stories: 3.5 new (one needs typing up and the end finalising), 2 completely rewritten
Poems: 7 (5 new, 2 complete rewrites)
Miscellaneous: a few bits of random non-fiction (not all of it finished) and blog posts. I've also purged my files and deleted a lot of old work, or dragged it back into the light to be reworked.

It's better than nothing, and I wouldn't say the year's been a complete waste as I've made up for a lack of writing by doing a lot more reading and rediscovering video games - so far I've restarted Dungeon Keeper 2, Final Fantasy 7, and Dragon Age: Inquisition.

We're getting on for evening here. I probably won't get much more done in the way of writing this year, although there are a couple of submissions I'd like to get out the door. I'm making plans for next year's writing, including looking at ways of keeping better organised. Next year (tomorrow!) I have some writing samples to finish up, and I want to get that .5 of a story finished off. I'm also working my way through the rewrites mentioned above, and also thinking of giving either Reunion or Stigma a poke to see if there's anything salvageable. It's been a long time since I worked on either of those.

Onwards.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
2016-12-11 11:58 am

Build Your Own MA - Part 3 - Decide On Timescales

I was originally going to post about this first, but then it occurred to me that how long you need is likely to depend on what the subject matter is. Investigating all the myriad subgenres of speculative fiction is likely to take longer than if you're only interested in Steampunk.

There are three way you could go about picking a deadline.
1. Decide how long you want to spend on it, and pick your books and areas of study to fit the time available. It's all too easy to look at a genre from outside, or even one you're familiar with, and see so much to learn that it leads to being overwhelmed and choice paralysis. It's also easy to decide to do All The Things, make a reading list and to do pile that will take the rest of your life, and then make yourself miserable failing to do it. Setting yourself a deadline should help with this.
2. Decide on what you want to get done and set a timescale based on it. This is the NaNoWriMo approach - "I will write 50k in 30 days!" If you know you want to write a 70k novel and read X number of books, you can plan around how many words you can write and books you can read to figure out how long it should take.
3. Decide on what you want to do, but leave it open-ended. This is actually not an approach I'd recommend. Time is finite but procrastination is infinite. Picking an end date means that choices have to be made about where this thing is going, rather than just planning it forever and never actually starting. Or finishing.

The important thing is to work with the free time you have - a writer with a full time job and three kids is likely to have less free time than one with no kids and/or no full time job. Some days it's just not possible to write, because of work, family, or general life commitments. That's fine. Goals need to be realistic, and if it's not realistic for you to write every day, then don't. What's important is to make the space for writing every day, so if you can't write do something else - read, listen to a podcast, whatever. Just make it related to your goal.

There are several well-known events in the writing calendar that can fit in with your timeline. The obvious one is NaNoWriMo in November, but there's also Camp NaNoWriMo, a "virtual writer's retreat" that runs in April and July. Also running in April and November is the Poem a Day Challenge where a poetry prompt is posted every day for a month. There's also Story a Day in May, which does the same thing with short story prompts (although to be honest some of them seem more like exercises).

I've been posting these every two weeks, but it's actually Christmas Day two weeks today so I'm going to leave it three weeks until the next one of these.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
2016-11-27 12:43 pm

Build Your Own MA - Part 2 - Decide On Content

Once you've chosen your subject matter, it's time to decide on some course content. On a taught MA this would involve a lot of reading, but there are other resources too.

Reading
This will broadly fall into three categories - books about writing what you want to write, books about the subject you want to write, and books of the type you want to write.

When picking the former it's important to choose books by authors with a track record of publication in that genre, in the same way you'd look for this in an MA tutor. Respected editors in the field can also be a good source of advice. This is also true of books in connected subjects, for example books about police procedure written by former policemen.

For the latter, I'd suggest choosing a mix of authors whose work you like, and those whose work if popular but you just can't work out why. For the former, read with an eye to why it works for you; for the latter, with an eye to why it doesn't work for you, but why it might for everyone else.

Do Some Outside Study
There are several websites offering free university-taught courses on creative writing. I particularly like Coursera, although it's difficult not to fall down the rabbit hole as there's a huge variety of courses. Some of the writing courses are more general (plot, character), and some are subject-specific (Writing for Young Readers). All are free if you select the option to audit (so you don't get marked or a certificate of completion). Another good site is FutureLearn, which is also a good source of courses on peripheral subjects (they ran a few on forensics last year).

Most of these courses take several weeks and run at set times, although some can be done at your own pace if you sign up before enrollment closes. There are a few that are self-guided so you can do them when you like.

Invite Guest Speakers
An MA course would likely have guest lecturers and there's no reason this can't be replicated at home. There's a wealth of writing-related podcasts about writing, that can fit in around pretty much anything. For example, commuting to work and doing chores are both activities where it's not possible to read or write (unless you like to dictate). There are also YouTube videos and TED talks that can fit into short lengths of time. There are also audiobooks, if you want to get some of your reading done this way (just be aware that some books are abridged).

Next time, deciding when to do it all.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
2016-11-13 10:20 am

Build Your Own MA - Part 1 - Choose Your Syllabus

Just as you'd do preparation and research for a real MA, some preparation is needed to build your own. Otherwise you'll just end up with a mess of books and good intentions, with no real idea of what to do with them (yes, I am speaking from experience here).

So, thinking out loud again, here's how I'd start planning my course.

Decide on the Subject
The first step is to decide what to study - creative writing is a big field, after all. You might want to write children's novels, crime thrillers, or how-to books, or get started in poetry or article writing. Picking a subject at this point will help you to keep focussed on what it is you want to achieve.

Let's say you want to write crime fiction - do you want to write cosy mysteries or Tartan Noir? Are you interested in the history of the genre, or historical crime fiction? Picking out areas of interest will help later when it comes to choosing specific texts to study. Write a list, do a mind map, or whatever helps you get the ideas down.

Choose Modules
Taught courses tend to be divided into modules, which is a good way of breaking it down into manageable chunks. Sticking with crime fiction for a moment, if you've read it but never written it, you might decide to spend some time reading books about how to write crime and thrillers. You could include a module on the type of crime fiction you've decided to write, and other writers in that area. For example, if sticking to the grittier end of things, you could include some Tartan Noir, Scandinavian crime novels, or dark crime fiction written by women. If writing for children, you could look at books for that age group, and the particular genre you want to write in.

You can also include modules that fit around the subject - for example for crime fiction there's forensics, psychology, weapons. There are plenty of books out there of the "guns for writers" variety, which could be a useful resource. It depends on where you want to build up your knowledge.

Pick a Final Project
Most MAs have a final project as the end goal, for example a novel or a poetry collection. What do you want to have achieved at the end?

Next time, we'll fill those modules with content.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
2016-10-30 09:12 am

Building Your Own MA

During a Facebook conversation in one of my writing groups. A friend asked "Should I do an MA to get anywhere in this business?" The response was a far from enthusuastic "maybe".

The problem with doing an MA is, of course, that it's time-consuming and expensive - and you may not end up getting what you want. The field is still overwhelmingly aimed at the literary, although this is changing. Some universities, such as Edinburgh Napier University offer courses with modules in genre writing, children's writing, etc, although a single module may not be enough if a particular genre is your passion. It's also worth noting that when several of them mention genre what they mean is poetry versus prose versus non-fiction, so if you do go down this route it's worth clarifying exactly what they mean. (I think of these as forms, with genre being used to refer to the subject matter, eg fantasy, science fiction, crime fiction, and this is what I mean when I refer to genre.)

A common complaint I've heard from friends with MAs is that they didn't focus enough (if at all) on the business side of writing. Mostly this is something that's picked up later, by doing. This may not matter to writers with a grounding in the industry, but for others they could pay a whole lot of money for how to write and end up with no idea of what to do with it after.

In the end, the advice given to my friend was "it depends what you want to get out of it". If committing time and money to something, the first step is to research exactly what you're getting. There are enough resources out there for a writer to put together their own "MA" programme, tailored to individual interests, which could be done for free or nearly free. There's no qualification at the end, but the qualification isn't guaranteed to get you anywhere in this industry. So you don't get a shiny certificate to hang on your wall, but you do get the benefit of the study.

Since this is already getting a bit long, I'm going to follow up with other posts - my thoughts on how to build your own course of MA study. At this point I'm mostly thinking out loud, so I'll include links to other entries as I post them.