Do Writers Need to Study Professional Writing Courses to Become Professionals?

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In 2007, I was studying the final subject in my master’s degree in writing at Swinburne University. The subject was The Writerly Self (don’t ask, I have no idea, not sure if I even understood exactly what the subject was about when I was studying it) and the major assessment piece was a writing journal reflecting on my development as a writer. I really didn’t want to do it. It seemed self-indulgent. It seemed like a waste of the 3,000-5,000 words required.

I proposed, was given permission for and began writing several alternatives including an article with the title, “Can Writing Be Taught?” It was and still is a question perpetually asked in relation to professional writing courses.

At the simplest level, of course writing can be taught. We teach writing to children all throughout their schooling years. But the focus of my article was going to be undergraduate and postgraduate writing studies. What better way to reflect on my development as a writer than to look into the proliferation of bachelor-, graduate certificate-, graduate diploma-, master’s- and PhD-level writing courses, their necessity and their usefulness. Continue reading

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How Much Lived Experience Do You Need to Create Diverse Characters?

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“There’s a quote from Julius Caesar at the start of Area 7. I made it up. It says fiction on the back. A lot of the books – I stopped it in Scarecrow for the sake of pace – have the prologue at the start. Advantage Press doesn’t exist. W.M. Lawry & Co. He was a cricket guy. There are gags in there if you look closely enough. But it says fiction on the back.”

Matthew Reilly in Literati: Australian Contemporary Literary Figures Discuss Fear, Frustrations and Fame by James Phelan

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Truth in fiction seems to be a big debate topic these days, at least some truths. Nobody seems to mind when Matthew Reilly makes things up in his books or when George Lucas writes about an epic resistance and the religion at the heart of it a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But when a writer wants to explore a real race or a real culture or a real disability that they have no lived experience of in a piece of fiction, it seems to be more and more of a problem. Verisimilitude, or the ring of truth, apparently isn’t good enough anymore. Some writers of those races or cultures or with those disabilities don’t want you to read a piece of fiction informed by imagination and (hopefully) a decent chunk of research. They instead want you to read their piece of writing about the same topic (whether fictional or not) so that you can read “the truth” or at least a piece of writing informed by their truth. Continue reading

Why Do Some Writers Hate Adverbs?

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“The hatred of adverbs amongst writers, and specifically teachers of creative writing, has become so commonplace, so unquestioned, and so unthinking, that it ranks only with ‘show, don’t tell’ as the most ubiquitous cliché in writing advice.” Colin Dickey

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The thing about clichés is that many of them are accurate. It’s how they become clichés. “Show, don’t tell” is essential writing advice. It is how “He went here, he went there, he did this, he did that” becomes “The crowded train to the edge of the city was oppressive but the only alternative was to take the bus since what he was heading to was the mechanic’s workshop holding his car hostage until he paid the enormous repair bill. And the only thing he hated more than mechanics was buses.”

But the ongoing campaign against the use of all adverbs isn’t helpful at all. So whenever anyone says that writers shouldn’t use them, I want to scream, “Stop telling me what to do!” No adverbs in that sentence so they shouldn’t be too offended unless the screaming puts them off. But oops! One has snuck in. (Don’t see it? It’s the “too”.) Does that little modifier render everything I’ve written here unreadable? I don’t think so. Apparently some do. Uh oh, there’s another! (“Apparently.”) Continue reading

Book Review: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

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Liane Moriarty is Australia’s ‘it’ author at the moment on the back of a string of terrific books and the success of the Hollywood adaptation of the New York Times bestselling Big Little Lies. And there’s a reason for that. She takes the ordinary and usually manages to make it extraordinary. But despite the readability of Moriarty’s writing, Truly Madly Guilty starts out ordinary and stays that way. Continue reading