The Pros and Cons of Studying Writing

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I am following the careers of two emerging writers who have both gone back to studying at university in their late twenties/early thirties. I did the same thing, studying a master’s degree in writing, starting when I was twenty-seven and finishing when I was thirty. But even though they are both very vocal about writing, publishing and wanting to be writers, they aren’t studying writing. One is studying archaeology and anthropology ten years after gaining a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and the other is studying astronomy after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in criminology.

I find it curious, probably because I’m a literal kind of person. When I decided I wanted to make writing my career, I studied writing. But, of course, there are many paths that can be taken towards becoming a writer. And being a writer while having other specialist knowledge can really expand career opportunities. After all, most writers make most of their money doing things other than writing.

So should you study writing? Should you study something else? Should you study at all? Here are a few things to consider. Continue reading

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There Once Was a Girl Who Looked Like a Horse…

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During the first year of my first writing course, the Novel teacher set us students an in-class assignment to pick a fellow student, write a description of them the way we would if they were a character in our book and then read it aloud. Then everyone had to try to guess which student was being described.

There were a few rules:

*Before we started, we spent an uncomfortable and lengthy minute looking around the room, deciding who to write about and absorbing as much as possible about their appearance as we could but without staring and giving away our hand before we’d even begun writing.

*After that uncomfortable and lengthy minute, we weren’t allowed to look at the person we were writing about again during the creative process in case it ruined the guessing game we were shortly about to play.

*We couldn’t write a description that was too obvious. If there was only one boy in a blue shirt, then it wasn’t going to be much of a challenge guessing who he was. Continue reading

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

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

What Happens to Your Unpublished Writing After You Die?

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In March 2015, Terry Pratchett, the British author of over seventy books and creator of the Discworld series, lost his battle with early onset Alzheimer’s. He was just sixty-six years old. In June and September 2015 respectively, The Long Utopia and The Shepherd’s Crown, his two final completed books, were published. In 2017, the manager of Pratchett’s estate used a steamroller to flatten a hard drive containing all his unpublished, incomplete works and tweeted a picture of the destroyed device. It was Pratchett’s wish fulfilled.

Pratchett’s estate and heirs were in an enviable position. With seventy-odd books already published, the royalties will be flowing in for many years to come so their decision to respect his dying wish was, it would seem, a relatively easy one.

However, it doesn’t always appear to be the case. Despite her immense success, after Virginia Andrews’s death in 1986, her estate hired a ghost writer to keep penning works in her name. Some of them were begun by Andrews but not completed before she succumbed to breast cancer at the age of sixty-three. Continue reading

Just Write, It’ll Be Okay! (No, It Won’t – Writers for Hire Need a Brief)

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I think I’m safe enough making a general statement here: most writers would love to be in a position to simply write what they want when they want. Unfortunately, having to earn a living that lifts you above the poverty line often means writers either work a non-writing job or offer their services to write things that under normal circumstances they wouldn’t give two hoots about. Non-writing jobs result in equal parts financial independence and resentment but being a writer for hire can just as often be a minefield. There are lots of reasons for this but there’s one that has stood out for me in several writing requests and that’s being asked to write something but not being provided with a brief.

It won’t come as a shock to anyone with even a small amount of common sense but professional writers aren’t mind readers. We don’t have some sort of sixth sense that allows us to automatically know what needs to be written. So when we’re asked to write something that we aren’t specialists in or aren’t particularly interested in, we need instructions that comprise more than just one sentence. Continue reading