Monday, 14 December 2009

Training Wreck

I have a chip on my shoulder about creative writing training. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if it's actually a phobia. I've always been suspicious of the "right way" to go about writing a book and have often taken a deliberately wilful route through the maze. I guess this is called "making my own mistakes", although sometimes it feels like winding up the window and not asking for directions, even though my wife is shouting at me and threatening divorce.

Somebody lent me a copy of How to Write a Blockbuster by Helen Corner and Lee Weatherly. Now, I'm sure this is an excellent book and the quick peeks I've had at it seem to back this up. But, I just can't bring myself to read it. Every time I pick it up, I get through half a paragraph before a spike of panic forces me to put it down. Stephen King could not have a stronger emotional effect on me than this book! So, what am I scared of? I think, deep down somewhere, I am convinced of some small fragile uniqueness, something that makes my writing different to everyone else. Opening myself up to "established" writing ideas feels like exposing myself to a virus and I worry that this infection will somehow wipe out what little talent I have.

Ok, I will admit that this argument has more holes than my plotting. Plenty of you have had creative writing training, some at MA level and you can all still write with wit and individuality. In fact, better than you could before, I'll wager. I'm sure I could dredge up a whole load of statistics about how much such courses improve your chances of getting published. Unfortunately, fears are not rational. Many (all?) of us are riven by self-doubt and the feeling that we will never again be able to put fingers to keyboard and write even one word that has any worth. One of the most refreshing things about the SCBWI conference was hearing Meg Rosoff talk about her own struggles with self doubt and the shadow that the success of How I Live Now has cast across her subsequent work.

I'd love to end this post by telling you how I've just enrolled on an Arvon course or a wonderful spiritual journey to the heart of the novel, but, hey, that's not going to happen. I have, however, been managing to read some advice on plotting without throwing up and I think it's improving my structure by degrees. Just not postgraduate degrees.


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