….well that depends on what you want to achieve of course…but if you want to produce something of the highest quality (and why not) then finding a teacher / mentor should be something on your list.
For me – producing a first draft is about telling myself the story. I don’t worry about characterisation, scene structure, head hopping etc. etc. I just write. In my world a ‘succesful’ first draft is one that I’ve finished – one that covers the ground I want it to, lumps and all.
The next phase is the re-write. This is the time consuming bit and you need to know what you’re doing. This is where a teacher can help. When you re-write you turn that first draft into something that feels slick and allows your reader to come with you on the journey you have planned for them.
I’m not talking about grammar and punctuation – getting these right is important but (for me) comes after the re-write (what I call my technical edit). The re-write is about getting the technicalities of your story-telling right. One of the (many) joys of creative writing, is that you have to learn new skills, and this is why I love this stage so much; there’s masses to learn and practice during the re-write.
I’ve tried to cover some of these technicalities on this website – scene construction, the three act format etc. But there is no better way of improving your skills than with the help of a great teacher.
Mine was (is) Krystina Kellingley – here’s a link to a website that will tell you a little about her….
….and I will forever be in her debt.
When I first met Krystina, I knew that my writing was ‘OK’, but I knew it often didn’t quite work. Some scene or a passage of dialogue might work fine, but often it just wouldn’t hit the mark. The trouble was that I didn’t know why.
Krystina took me to a point where I could spot a problem, diagnose it, and deploy the tools to fix it (though I still need some help from time to time). I think it was her help and encouragement (and above all her thoughtful and honest criticism of my manuscripts) that gave me permission to think of myself as a writer. I still have loads to learn (hurrah!) but, if you were to ask me what I do, I’d tell you that I write.
Finding a mentor / teacher
I can’t give you a list of great teachers near you, so what I thought might be useful would be a description of some of the things that I found useful about the classes I attended. If you are not ‘me’ (which you are not), then I guess this will be of limited use because you may find other things much more useful, but its the most useful thing I can think of providing.
Stuff you might consider when looking for a class
Krystina is a published author. She has ‘been there’ and knew my pain. She could see exactly where I was on the ‘ladder or learning’ because she had already climbed it. That meant that she was able to push me up to the next rung.
Her approach was quite different from lectures on creative writing that I had previously attended. These are another beast entirely. A lecture delivered by an academic, will (in my experience) cover useful ground, but leaves you with the task of figuring out if and how it applies to your work. So my first bullet would be;
- look for a mentor who is a published author
If you follow the link I’ve given above, you’ll see that Krystina is a published author, but she is also an editor, reader and copy editor. She is in short a professional, an insider. This means that she has an eye for detail and knows her stuff – inside out. It also means that she knows that the value she can add comes in the form of criticism. If your tutor is too gentle with you, and says what you’ve written is good when its not, then you will never improve.
You might want to hear how great your work is, but what you need to hear is where its not so good and why. This will be the ‘default setting’ for an industry insider. So, I say;
- look for someone who works or has worked in publishing
- find someone who ‘tells it like they see it’
The last thing I’d highlight as a really good thing to look out for, is the format of the class. I’ve already said a little about attending ‘academic’ lectures. This kind of class does it for some people but for me – not so much.
Krystina’s class was a writing group. It was a small number – between say 8 and 12, which meant we all ‘got a go.’ There were 3 really tangible benefits to this set-up;
I got to hear other people’s work (this was interesting, encouraging and fun).
I got to hear everyone else’s opinions about my work – this was really valuable as it was like having a punter tell you what they liked / disliked about my story-telling.
I was expected to comment on everyone else’s work. Really (really) useful as it allowed me to practice the diagnostic skills I’d need to apply to my own work. Doing this in front of the class meant that if I hadn’t understood the ‘lesson’, this would be pretty obvious and Krystina could run over the ground with me / the class again (I’m too embarrassed to tell you how long it took me to understand ‘show not tell’).
So my final bullet for you would be something like;
- find a class format that works for you (I recommend a writing group style)
So – ‘yep’ you should (I reckon) take a class. Quite how you go about finding the right one for you…I hope the above is of some help in answering this.
Until the next time…all good things to you….Adam