1. Manofkent
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    Manofkent Member

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    Horses for courses

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Manofkent, Aug 29, 2010.

    I’m interested in starting a creative writing course and I hope you enjoyed the topic pun!

    I am 26, from the UK and have not done any further education since I left school after my GCSE’s where I got a C in English. I barely remember any of what I was taught but I have been writing creatively for around 6 years.
    I am having trouble improving and recently I find it difficult to begging writing text even when I have a great clear idea in my head.

    I would like to do a creative writing course to encourage me to write more frequently and to get some help and advice with my work. I don’t want to waste my money but I’m happy to spend £300 if I feel I would benefit from it.
    My options are...
    Spend the money on some good books,
    Some better programs (I currently use power structure),
    Redoing an English GCSE.
    Doing an A-level in English
    Starting an online course 10weeks
    Or lastly, doing a short diploma online for a year.

    My spelling is very poor and I know very little about the whys and wherefores of grammar and proper sentence structuring. I know there are rules, but I have only ever written very freely and simply try to get my ideas from brain to paper as fast as possible. I would love to learn to write properly and I think I would benefit from the organisation of a course as it should give me more motivation that if I were to buy a book to follow.
    Perhaps I would be beter of going back to the beggining and starting the GCSE.

    I would really like some advice on how best I should spend my time and money on improving.
    Thank you for your time.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Spend some of your cash on a good grammar and punctuation book. I have heard the Penguin guides are good for the UK. Also, if you don't have the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, get a copy and wear it out.

    Writing courses are a crap shoot. You may get a great one with good guidance, or you may end up wasting time and money. It depends on the instructor and with who your classmates are.

    Read, read, and read some more, as wiode a variety of genres and styles as possible. Read most books twice. The first time to read and enjoy the story and the characters, and to decide whether the author's style appeals ro you. The second time, concentrate on the writing. How does the author build the story and introduce and develop the characters? What passages are particularly effective, and how does the author make it work so well. Ditto for passages that are confusing or fall flat. What would you do to make the weak passages work better? How does sentence length affect the flow of the story? How much description does the writer use and when? What does the author leave to the reader's imagination?

    The second reading, when you know already what the author is taking the story, is reading as a writer.

    As far as How-To books on writing are concerned, don't waste your money. There are a few decent ones out there, but nearly all contain a lot of the authors' biases and personal writing habits. Picking out the truly good recommendations practically requires you already know the topics of discussion well enough to have written the material yourself.
     
  3. Tomspy77
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    Tomspy77 New Member

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    I have wondered about taking an online course myself, but as Cogito said it could not be the best thing to do as you may not get a credible class or instructor.

    I am going to try and research online courses to find the best ones, so if I hit pay dirt so to speak I will try and post the positive results here.

    I am going to take a remedial English class at a local community college even though I have passed at a higher level in English courses, just to get a refresher on the basics you are concerned about. I wonder if a university in the UK has a similar class you could take with the same aim...
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Spend that time and money reviewing grammar/spelling online and on reading good books. The best way to improve writing is to read a lot. Ask any great writer and they will tell you the same thing.
     
  5. Nervous1st
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    Nervous1st Senior Member

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    I have the penguin Pocket Writer's Handbook. It's small enough that I can carry it in my handbag for when I'm out and about.

    If I find there's a subject that I need further study. I go online and research. I keep a A4 notebook and make notes as I go, because I learn from reading, writing and applying.

    There's a word of the week running under SP&G. Each week I add to my notebook the new word and it's synonyms. I also closely follow the other threads in SP&G and make notes of any new information (be aware of American differences though, in Aus we are UK English)

    When I have time I browse the review room and make notes of corrections from other users.

    I do have a creative writing book called THE MAKING OF A STORY by Alice Laplante. Again, as I do with the handbook, I research each topic further online or here at WF and get as much information as possible, so as I'm not influenced by one writer.

    Get yourself a healthy library of books. Don't fall into the trap of reading novels just because it’s a bestseller. It's like McDonalds, just because it's easily accessible and everyone's eating it doesn't mean it's good for you.

    I make notes from the novel I'm reading. Words I've never seen before or character notes, plot notes etc.

    Like I said, I don't read over my note book but the act of writing it down seems to sink in for me. A couple of years of this have paid off tremendously. My spelling's still ordinary, but that's because I'm lazy and I have automatic spell check.

    WF membership $0
    Pocket writer’s handbook $16.95
    The making of a story $49.95
    Library card $0

    If you need a course for motivation then I suggest you rethink what you're doing. Writing requires hours of commitment with often no one to motivate you or even encourage you.

    If you need someone to study with, I would be more than happy to do it with you as I'm sure others would be. God knows it's easier with someone else, but ultimately you just have to do it on your own.

    Good luck.
     
  6. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Take a foreign language. You benefit from it either way, but it teaches you SO MUCH about your own grammar too. I learned Latin last year for a laugh, and while I can still barely understand Latin, I learn hell loads about ENGLISH sentence structure and grammar and stuff, just 'cause to explain the messy grammar the teacher had to give us what was basically remedial English grammar too.

    Take Latin or German for familiar-ish languages that use our grammar but on crack. Take something like Finnish or Japanese or something if you want to be blown so far out of your comfort zone you end up looking back on our language as if through bubble wrap. :p
     
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Look at the Open University it is a wonderful resource we have in the UK that is pretty unique it is nationally recognisable and is designed to take people from stringing sentences together to degree level in a year. I remember when I started the science degree it began with how to use a calculator by the end of the academic year I was skipping through complicated equations. You get access to some great academics and summer schools etc And it is designed to fit round work and family life I have always found the tutors brilliant.

    They do a creative writing degree that can begin with 10pt basic courses, depending on your income and the current budget cuts there is government funding available. Worst that happens is you end up better qualified than you are right now:) I would recommend a good dictionary and a Roget's thesaurus, if you can learn how to use a Roget's it is much easier to avoid the pitfalls of an A-Z one, and read a grammar and punctuation book.
     
  8. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the most important thing for you is to get your spelling, grammar and sentence structure better. You can do this on your own fairly easily with the help of dictionaries, and general exercises that I'm sure you can find online. I'd recommend 'The Elements of Style' by William Strunk Jr and E.B. White - it's a small thin book so will be cheap and will help you immensely. After you've done that, then consider whether you need/want to go on a course or not. They are a bit hit and miss if it's just a general writing course. Elgaisma mentioned the Open University and I did A174 Start Writing Fiction (10 point/Level One module, three months long if I remember rightly). It was good to do that because you have your own little online group that you get advice from and can discuss issues etc. I did it whilst in my first year at Sixth Form/Year 12 so it's easy to fit it around commitments. But you need to read and write regularly. Read and write, read and write, read and write!
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Another very common problem is usage errors, using a correctly spelled word in the wrong contest, particularly in place of the correct word with a similar spelling. For example:

    The error is the word loose. It should be lose. No spelling checker will catch this, and they often fall through the cracks with grammar checkers too.

    One good site to learn to avoid these is Paul Brians' Common Errors in English Usage. Paul Brians is Emeritus Professor of English at Washington State University.
     
  10. Manofkent
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    Manofkent Member

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    Thank you for all your advice.

    I will get a couple of the books mentioned. The only problem I can foresee is not knowing exactly when to refer to the guides.

    I may consider doing re-doing my GCSE or taking an As Level, which for those not from England are the exams you take at 16-17.

    I don’t need motivation to write, only to write properly. I previously wrote 150K word story which had terrible structure and I don’t want to waste another year writing badly.
    As for reading, I listen to audio books each day between 3-8hours at work and in the car and I have recently starting picking out patterns and writing techniques which is giving me a new level of understanding. I read a lot of Stephen King, Earnest Hemmingway, H G Wells, Tolkin and Frank Hubert as they are the authors which I feel I would like to be able to write like.

    As a bit of a challenge I have been trying to write a short epilogue or extra scene for each book I read in the style of the author. Obviously they are fairly bad, but I do enjoy it and think it has been helping.

    Thanks again for your help.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    follow cog's advice...

    and if there's a set of courses in the uk as good as the gotham's in nyc, you might want to consider taking one that will help you in the area you need to improve most...
     
  12. litchickuk
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    litchickuk Member

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    i dont believe you need to be taught how to write so i would say a creative writing course is only something that looks good on a cv but realistically has no merit. However I think a book that works on the same principle as a course is much better. I have found that 'Fiction Writers Workshop' by Josip Novakovich useful, so if you can locate a copy then you could give it a try.
    Basically i believe you can teach yourself pretty much anything, so you want to learn how to correctly use grammar, expand your vocab etc then find some books and bury yourself in them. I have English for GCSE and A-level English language revision guides and books to help with grammar etc (you dont need the actual qualifications, just the reference material) and a good dictionary and thesaurus is a must.
    Want feedback on your stuff and support etc then youve already started well by joining a forum. Theres also Critters if you write horror, SF or fantasy. You could find a local writing group or join one online.
    Youve got to find your writing style and way of working so basically write just about anything to find your feet, weak points etc. I dont think you need any qualifications, when you can teach yourself pretty much all you need, but if you want to do a course make sure its worth it - there are some that take your money and then pretty much look at only 3 pieces. You need good constructive criticism so dont be afraid to ask anyone on any forum etc.
    Id also recommend you sign up for Nanowrimo - it really helped me when i first started writing.

    If you want more advice etc, we are all here for just that! Good luck!
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry to have to disagree with you, lit, but from my experience in years of mentoring/helping thousands of aspiring writers, i can tell you flat out that many DO need to be taught... some are plainly incapable of teaching themselves, so i have no alternative to recommending they take a good creative writing course... and in many cases, even basic grammar ones...

    that you can do it on your own doesn't mean everyone can...
     
  14. litchickuk
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    litchickuk Member

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    ^ thats ok, most people disagree with me! And I respect your opinion, based on your own experiences. Clearly we are very different in our approaches and understandings of how writing is approached. I find that if someone wants something bad enough and has the time, patience and determination then they will suceed at anything. I think you learn slower on your own but there are mistakes you need to make that cant be taught - as with most things in life. Maybe some people do need to be taught as you say, but is it because they cant teach themselves - or just prefer not to put in double effort which is required in self-learning? Surely I cannot be alone in the fact I taught myself? If I am, then I want a t-shirt or something to celebrate such a feat of intelligence!

    Kudos for being a good sparring partner in a little healthy debate by the way!

    can i just add to the previous comment i made that I am not condemning attending a writing course at all, because if you noted in the original post I recommended 'Fiction Writers Workshop' which can be easily viewed as a workshop in book-form.
     
  15. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    For future reference, if you want to add to your own comment, just look for the edit button. It is the yellow button right to the left of "quote" at the bottom right hand corner of your post. Sometimes one of the mods is kind enough to combine both posts, but to save them time, it is easier to just edit. The edit button is also your best friend if you find mistakes after you've posted.
     
  16. Bad_Valentine
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    Bad_Valentine Member

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    I'm looking into taking a writing course as well. It's SO expensive (around $400 for one six week class) I'm pondering just doing it on my own. Still on the fence, but time is running out before the course I want to take starts. *whirr click whistle* my poor little brain is in overdrive. ;)

    One of the unique benefits of a writing course is the invaluable one-on-one feedback you receive from a trained, experienced educator. Just look up the teacher's name online before taking the course, make sure they're someone who's published and perhaps won fiction contests and/or various awards. For me, I need someone with success in the field, not just an MFA who's never been published. I want to be sure I'm getting the best feedback possible.

    No clue how it works in the UK, but here in the states we have some very prestigious universities that offer extension courses that anyone can take (for a hefty fee). I assume you have the same there. Good luck, and decide quickly, classes are starting soon, and for some classes are already in full swing.

    Litchick, I totally agree with you that anyone who sets their mind to it can accomplish just about anything ... within their individual limitations. Yes, anyone who wants to can teach themselves pretty much anything. Whether or not they have talent or will be successful is an entirely different story. I don't believe that anyone can be a writer. You have to have natural talent, which is born, not found in a book. If a student has a teacher's feedback and sees the work of their classmates, maybe they will realize that this isn't their forte and save themselves (and the reading public) some future pain.

    I'm not against the self-taught concept at all. My fiancé is a completely self-taught graphic and web designer and is very successful at it. The reality is though that most people aren't as smart as he is :) and furthermore, learning like this has major limitations. My opinion, there is no substitute for learning in the classroom.
     
  17. Manofkent
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    Manofkent Member

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    On self teaching v tutored teaching.
    Personally I would really struggle if I tried to teach myself. I am a very creative person but I find it very hard to critique, edit or correct my own work. Whenever I write, I get too focused on creating the story and getting my ideas down as quickly.

    I believe my ideas are good, but I would be far too embarrassed by the quality of my writing to ever ask anyone to read it. This is why I think an English course would do me good.

    I am starting to see how the writing courses could be a bit of a waste of money. It might be better to pay someone to critique your work rather than paying someone to tell you to write. If you do a 6-10week course, then your work isn’t going to be finished in time for the teacher to critique it for you. Maybe that is why they do them.
     
  18. sherabeezee
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    sherabeezee New Member

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    Man of Kent, just a short suggestion. Reading books, magazines and newspapers will help you with grammar and spelling. It would be best to read things which interest you, otherwise you will probably get bored.

    I am amatuer writer too, I am lucky spelling and grammar are one of my good points.
    Sherabeezee
     

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