Which writing course is best for you?

I have been following the Rejecter’s disillusionment with her MFA (here, and here) with interest, because I went through a similar thing when I did a Master of Arts in Professional Writing.

With one exception, my course was a waste of time. Sometimes it seemed that the only thing I learned (outside of that one exception) was that if you wish to write commercially, don’t go to university.

Why not?

Because many of university lecturers had no experience outside academia. They had no idea of what was commercial, and by commercial here I mean business writing as well as fiction.

The one exception was the professor who taught screenwriting. He had been a screenwriter for 30 years before he took up teaching, and it showed in what he taught and how he taught it.

I learned more about screenwriting from him in one semester than I did in the rest of the course.

Sadly, he died in my first year (vale Peter, you were fantastic). The new screenwriting professor had spent his life in academia, and it showed.

The individual professors I had were lovely people, but they really needed some practical experience if the real world about what they were teaching.

My experience was not unique, as the Rejecter’s blog shows, but others have done such courses and got real value out of them.

Interestingly enough, the university I originally contacted to do my MA recommended I try elsewhere, as they didn’t have anyone on the faculty who wrote in the genre I like to work in.

So what makes a good writing course?

Writing progress

Sherylyn’s opinion of Barrain so far… This draft is definitely better, but Mathers simply would not do what he was doing. Mathers is not a ‘bad’ policeman. He would not overlook the obvious. He might start out believing the dead body was Caid, but if all the evidence—and that’s every single piece—points to that being…

Writing that influences the stories you create

All of us have read fiction that changed our life in some way, whether it just be that we read them at a particularly impressive age, or whether the theme resonated with us. But what about the non-fiction, the ideas and articles you may have come across that have a profound influence on what you write and how you write it?

What writing and other ideas influence your own?

Our own influences range, but they include:

  • Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland—technically this is fiction, but we treat it as a non-fiction. The don’t do’s for writing fantasy.
  • The Tragedy of the Commons—we apply this in world building and character building
  • The stages of grief—there are five distinct stages in the grieving process. We use this for character building.
  • The idea that a population will crash when the food runs out—comes from basic science experiments; we apply this for world building
  • Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots and Leaves really makes you aware of the power of the comma.

There are dozens more.

The Tragedy of the Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons was written back in 1968 by Garrett Hardin. If you don’t want to read the whole article, it’s summarised in Wikipedia,

The article itself is about population control, and basically it says that

… there is no foreseeable technical solution to increasing both human populations and their standard of living on a finite planet.

Wikipedia, Tragedy of the Commons

The idea is:

(Hardin uses) a hypothetical example of a pasture shared by local herders. The herders … wish to maximise their yield, and so will increase their herd size whenever possible. (Adding extra) animal(s) has both a positive and negative component:

Positive : the herder receives all of the proceeds from each additional animal

Negative : the pasture is slightly degraded by each additional animal

Crucially, the division of these components is unequal: the individual herder gains all of the advantage, but the disadvantage is shared between all herders using the pasture. Consequently, for an individual herder weighing up these utilities, the rational course of action is to add an extra animal. And another, and another. However, since all herders reach the same conclusion, overgrazing and degradation of the pasture is its long-term fate.

Wikipedia, Tragedy of the Commons

How many words can you write in a day?

NaNoWriMo aims for a 50,000 word novel in a month. That’s not quite 1,700 words a day. In their frequently asked questions they explain: Why 50,000 words? Isn’t that more of a novella? Our experiences over the past seven years show that 50,000 is a difficult but doable goal, even for people with full-time jobs…

How does your mood affect your writing?

How much does your personal mood affect your writing? When you are depressed, are your characters depressed too? When you are happy, do your characters sing and dance and do happy things? There are two types of mood when writing. Your own personal mood—are you happy, sad, grumpy, and your characters’ moods—are they happy, sad…

On naming characters

Forget about Apple and Suri, what about R’shiel and Lorandranek (Medalon, by Jennifer Fallon), or Barak and Ce’Nedra (David & Leigh Eddings). Fantasy novelists, as a collective, are probably the worst namers of characters you are likely to come across. Why do we do it, and how do we come up with the names? I…