There’s no doubt about it. I have the best job in the world.
Not only do I get to sit in my writing corner in Devon every day, making up adventures of medieval murder, or feel-good tales of Cornish sunshine and cream teas but, as part of Imagine, I have the privilege of helping to guide future writers on their own creative journeys.
Last Saturday I took my workshop, An Introduction to Novel Writing, 202 miles north to the Nottingham Writers’ Studio. This fabulous space, on the edge of the main city, provides a glorious variety of writing and creative classes for creatives of all types, ages and levels of experience.
Despite having been a writing tutor for over 10 years, I still get a sense of nervous excitement before any class starts. However, as the fourteen hopeful novelists arrived - a mix of folk who’d not yet started their first novels, writers who were deep into their drafts but needed reassuring that they were on the right track, and those who’d hit a writing wall and needed someone to show them which bricks were safe to remove - I knew we were in for a good day of shared enthusiasm, author-like concerns and smiles.
The Introduction to Novel Writing workshop isn’t designed to tell you how to write, but to show you how to tackle the process of writing a novel and the problems you’ll encounter along the way. To deliver a toolkit of information that will see you from the first word of your novel to the last - after all, it can be a daunting process, especially if you have never written fiction before.
On Saturday we began on the nursery slopes of the writing mountain, looking at what equipment we needed to optimise each individual’s writing time. Everyone needs to discover their own creative place and time of day to write. Some writers can only create in a noisy environment, others need total silence - some are productive early in the morning, while others are night writers. We considered how to fit writing around full time jobs and families and the importance of looking after yourself while you write - taking breaks and getting exercise every 45 minutes is as vital as producing another paragraph.
When beginning to write a novel it’s important to set realistic goals; to accept how much can be produced that day, rather than how much we wish we could produce. The more realistic we are, the less time we’ll waste beating ourselves up about how little we’re achieved, and so the more we’ll ultimately produce.
The main message of my workshop is that no writer EVER thinks their first draft is good enough. The late great Sir Terry Pratchett said, ‘The first draft is just the writer getting to know the story.’ With this wisdom in mind, we considered how to get the best from our first draft - and that it’s OK not to like every word. Chasing perfection at the first draft stage often kills a novel midstream because a writer can’t see a way around a plot problem and stalls... never to get doing again. As a group we completed a number of exercises to help keep the flow of writing going. Amongst these tasks, we used episodes from our own lives, twisting them into fiction to help erase plot problems, and we learnt how to use chapter plans and question listing to clear the way for moving our stories on and preventing word block. We also tackled those all important first - and endlessly tricky - opening lines.
Every author is different - there is NO off the peg design for writing a novel. It is vital to remember we are not in competition with each other. What’s important is having the courage to finish the first draft - and it does take courage. Putting our hopes and dreams on paper for others to read and criticise can make us feel vulnerable. Anyone who shares the workings of their imagination with the world is showing a level of bravery which needs bolstering with confidence boosts and regular encouragement. This is why places like the Nottingham Writer’s Studio are important. Meeting with like-minded people to talk about hopes and fears for your work - to discuss where you’re stuck - to share the bits you’re particularly proud of - can make writing that first book so much easier.
I have had the privilege of teaching many different writing groups all over the UK. It never cease to amaze and gratify me at how much talent there is out three- how many stories still remain to be told and what an incredible group of authors are waiting in the wings to share them.
To have the chance to help these incredible people is a joy.
If you’d like to visit the Nottingham Writers’ Studio you can find all the information you need here.
My next creative writing tutoring adventure is on the 5th July in Penzance, Cornwall. If you are in the area and fancy delving into the world of location construction, then I’d be delighted to see you at the Morrab Library.