clhollandwriter: (Default)
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)
This one's for poets - a free course at edX, The Art of Poetry. It's an archived course, which mean there isn't a class community, but does mean it can be done at your own pace.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
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)
Since some of the previous links have been for those relatively far along in their writing, this one's for beginners. FutureLearn has a free online course, Start Writing Fiction, starting on 9th January.
clhollandwriter: (Default)
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.

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)
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)
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.
clhollandwriter: (marchin)
I mentioned the other day that I'd been looking at online writing courses. Here are the ones I've found that are free. It's not an endorsement as I haven't actually taken any of them, I just thought other people might be interested.

Coursera is a site I particularly like, because it has a wide range of free university-provided courses. At the moment it's offering courses on Writing for Young Readers: Opening the Treasure Chest, and Sharpened Visions: A Poetry Workshop. Both are self-paced so you can take them how- and whenever you like, which in the case of the children's writing course is probably for the best since the hours of study are estimated at 8-15 a week. I've signed up for Sharpened Visions and hope to make time for it around other courses that aren't self-paced.

There are also a number of literature courses covering different genres. I took the historical fiction module last year and really enjoyed it, and I'm considering Spacebooks: An Introduction to Extraterrestrial Literature, which is one of two speculative fiction courses alongside Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. There are modules on comics and graphic novels, American Poetry, lots really. It's well worth taking a look if you fancy studying something.

Future Learn has free courses run by British universities, and has lots of starter courses for various modes of writing, including Start Writing Fiction, screenwriting, and songwriting. None of them are self-paced, but from looking at a course I signed up to but never started it appears the course content is available after it's run as long as you don't unenroll. I'm not signed up for any of the writing courses here, but I am for the one on Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales which starts in three weeks.

EdX is another site, which has about seven or so courses on the history of the book which I'm trying to ignore as I don't have time to take them all on! There are a number of "book club" courses as well, which take in individual texts like The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Frankenstein. There are a lot of poetry study courses, which seem to all be American poetry. The only free writing course (the novel writing courses are paid) is The Art of Poetry, which I'm also signed up for as it seems to be self-paced. It looks like most of the free courses here become "archived" but still do-able once they've run.

These are just the ones I'm aware of on sites I check regularly. Feel free to mention any others in the comments.
clhollandwriter: (Matter)
Neil Gaiman has posted a letter on his blog about whether aspiring writers should take a college course in Creative Writing. His response, and the letter beneath it, are incredibly insightful and useful and I'd recommend anyone thinking about taking Creative Writing at college read it. It starts just below the dog photos.

My own opinion on the matter - I wish I'd had this advice when I was making my own choices. If I could go back now I'd tell myself to take English Literature with History or something, instead of English with Creative Writing. Of course, I'd have to go back quite far to tell myself to take history GCSE first.....

If I could do things differently I'd avoid Creative Writing like the plague, because everything stated in the second letter Gaiman posts is true: even in the UK there's a bias against anything non-literary. Genre is, if not banned, frowned upon or sneered at. No effort is made to teach young writers how to edit, critique, find markets, promote themselves.....

Before I went on my Creative Writing course, I wrote all the time. I wrote stories in the back of old exercise books, told stories to my younger brother, got told off for writing in class when I should have been working. After I came out of the course, I didn't write for two years. In attempting to hammer me into the shape of a proper literary writer and/or poet, the tutors actually managed to hammer out of me any joy I took in my craft.

I can honestly say I learnt nothing useful in the whole three years I was there.* Everything I've learned since, about writing, critiguing, editing, manuscript format, markets, promotion, you name it, I learned through getting to know other writers. I joined a writer's forum that focussed on producing and critiquing flash fiction (yes, that would be Liberty Hall), I made connections, got my Livejournal and started making friends, and joined other sites like Absolute Write and Codex.** Most of what I learned, I learned by doing.

So my advice to any writer wanting to take a course - especially young ones whose egos are fragile - is BE SURE. Be sure of yourself, and of the choice you're about to make. Most Creative Writing courses fit a very narrow set of criteria, so be sure you're comfortable enough in yourself and your writing to be able to take that. Otherwise, do something else - like Gaiman says, other subjects can feed your writing. You can always write in your spare time, at lunch, on the bus, in the holidays. The whole world, and the internet, can be your classroom if you're willing to make the connections.

There are a lot of us out here. And mostly, we don't bite.

*This isn't counting the Literature side of my course, which was a whole different thing.
**It should be noted that Codex is only open to writers who've made a pro sale.
ETA Codex is also open to writers who've gone on a writing course like Clarion, Odyssey, Virtual Paradise, etc., even if they haven't yet made a pro sale.

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