Almost a year ago I was asked by a friend if I could pull together a private creative writing workshop.
Initially, I said no, I’ve written a few books, sold a few books, but still felt I was winging it as far as being an author was concerned. I certainly didn’t feel qualified to teach anybody anything.
She asked again a few weeks later. This time I was going through a (stupid) ‘pushing myself out of my comfort zone stage.’ Figuring I had months to prepare I shoved aside my fear of public speaking and agreed and then promptly buried my head in the sand. If I didn’t give it too much thought, it couldn’t be happening.
Only it was.
At the beginning of this year I realised that I only had a few weeks to prepare. I never go into things half-heartedly so panicking I ordered literally every ‘how to write a novel’ book I could find (and there are a LOT out there). I had many sleepless nights. I had no idea what I was doing. I knew NOTHING. I had previously been told by a copy editor that I mixed my concrete and my abstract nouns (apparently this is bad), got my clauses in the wrong order (apparently this is worse). I was an imposter with no formal qualifications.
I spent hours – HOURS – online, looking at what other courses offered, realising that to give a basic grounding in the fundamentals of writing I needed 6-8 weeks. I had an afternoon. And yet, as a former course junkie I knew that many workshops contained a lot of waffle, ice-breakers, time-filling exercises that didn’t always mean a lot. I wanted to write a programme which covered ideas, plot, point of view, show don’t tell – a lot to cover in a relatively short period. I spent a ridiculous amount of time pulling together content, my fourteen-year-old son testing everything I’d produced.
‘I love the exercise with the news headlines,’ he said.
‘It took me half a day of trawling the internet to choose them,’ I told him.
‘Mum! You’re a writer. You could have just made them up.’
He had a point. I’m an idiot.
I carefully wrote and rewrote my itinerary, growing quietly confident I could do it. Until several days before when the thought of sitting in front of a room full of strangers brought me out into a cold sweat. I roped in fellow author, Darren O’Sullivan.
Not only is Darren a former teacher, he’s a good friend and a fabulous writer (check out his books here). We often talk at literary festivals and events together and as our approaches to novel writing are completely different I knew we’d both bring something unique to the course. Aside from that, we always have a blast.
And we did.
The course participants were lovely. Really lovely. Thankfully, not one of them came in waving a grammar quiz at me, or demanding to see my (non-existent) degree.
During the afternoon, I was asked a question about whether it was bad to write out of order. ‘The thing I love about writing,’ I said, ‘Is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it.’ As I spoke I wanted to smack my palm against my forehead. In the lead-up to the course I had got it horribly wrong by trying to over complicate something that is fundamentally simple. It’s not easy to write a book, I wouldn’t claim otherwise, but there are things you need to know and things you don’t. I STILL don’t quite understand concrete and abstract nouns and why they shouldn’t go together. If I’m honest, I don’t really care. What I do know is how to construct a story that keeps readers turning the page, the elements every novel needs. My hours of angst had been unnecessary. Ultimately ‘write the story you’d like to read’ still remains the best advice I can give.
Darren and I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and hopefully so did everyone that came. They all left with the start of a piece of writing that they can develop, a smile and a copy of my latest thriller, The Family and me and Darren got to take home the leftover cake.
I learned a lot during the workshop, both about myself, (I can do things if I push myself) and things I’d forgotten about novel writing that will help me going forward, including the one basic thing I’d let slide recently. I’ll be sharing that in my next post.