Ahead, in the kitchen, everyone seems to be laughing. As I approach, the noise swells. I push the door open to find ten people sitting around a long wooden table, drinking tea and eating lemon drizzle cake. In an instant, the din dies down as everyone turns to look at the newcomer – me.
What have I left myself in for?
The prospect of attending a writing course holds both fascination and dread for would-be authors. I recently attended the Arvon Foundation’s “Editing Fiction: Turning First Drafts into Publishable Books” at The Hurst in Shropshire. So what actually happens on a writing course? Do they help your writing? And what if you don’t get on with the other participants?
I long to sit longer on this bench in the grounds of the Hurst
The Arvon course I attended, in November 2018, lasted from Monday afternoon to Saturday morning. It consisted of morning workshops, followed by afternoons free for writing, walking, or attending 1:1 seminars with the tutors. Workshops included sessions on how to edit a novel (including the advice “enjoy a moment of contentment on completion”); how to make novels more sellable (“story is everything”); story structure; and selling.
We also had sessions, to varying degrees both challenging and revelatory, examining the synopses and first pages of novels by each of the 16 course participants. I was impressed by the candour of our tutors and their readiness to give concrete advice.
The schedule was completed with meals cooked in part by participants; evenings with readings and other more, or less, structured activities; and farewells after breakfast on the final day.
Preparing a meal with other course participants (outstanding crew!)
Did it help? My week at Arvon helped turbocharge my motivation; my writing; and, possibly, the prospects for getting my next book published. Five reasons why:
- Access to top talent: experts who can offer you advice on writing technique and on how the publishing industry works; and may even, if you are lucky, look at, and give feedback on, your writing. All gold dust for a writer. Our tutors were Hannah Griffiths, head of literary acquisitions at independent television, film and digital production and distribution company All3Media and Christopher Wakling, author of seven fine novels and lead fiction tutor at Curtis Brown Creative. I found both outstanding.
- Inspiration. Being surrounded by other writers is stimulating. Everyone fizzes with ideas. Listening to others’ first pages and other writing fuels your desire to improve your own. Recommendations for reading; other courses; or tips on writing competitions can all boost your motivation or suggest new ways forward.
- Connections. Contact with other human beings is the key to happiness and success in many fields – including writing. A week living, cooking, learning and washing up together in a remote house is like a case study in bonding. (For more on happiness and humans, see The one with the links to happiness – links in bold italics are to other posts on this site.)
- Time. When was the last time you spent a week doing something you loved? When that something is writing, you may end the week with a colossal sense of satisfaction.
- Pleasure. I found living in a remote historic house (the former residence of playwright John Osborne, complete with the Oscar he won for Tom Jones in 1964) with a bunch of lively and interesting writers, excellent food and drink and great outdoor walks on tap enormously enjoyable.
The gardens of The Hurst are pleasingly idiosyncratic
When I enter the kitchen, I register that all the faces are friendly. ‘There’s tea in the pot,’ someone says. I sit down, pour myself a mug and grab a slice of cake.
‘So,’ someone says. ‘What’s your novel about?’
I take a deep breath, and the week begins.
P.S I’d be interested in to hear of others’ experiences of writing courses. I earlier reviewed an (also excellent) Skyros writing course I attended a few years ago.
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