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About to sign up for a writing course? What’s stopping you?

So you’re on the brink of signing up for a weekend Masterclass – or a Five Day Fiction Booster – or a two-month Start to Write course – or any of the multitude of creative writing courses on offer? Or thinking about it anyway?

And while one part of you – confident and decisive – is urging yourself to go ahead, the other –  cynical and negative – is wondering what can be achieved by such a brief immersion into the art and craft of fiction. How can a few days in a strange place, exposed to the measuring gaze of other wannabes, not to mention the stern tutelage of a (probably critical) author, set you off on the path to publication? You’re sorely tempted, but …

In order to help you make up your mind and hopefully allay your doubts, here are my responses to some aspects that might concern you:

The other participants (you say). I’m worried that they’ll be far better than I am, more accomplished, more experienced. I don’t want to make a complete idiot of myself.

Believe me (I reply), everyone who attends a writing course is nervous; some hide it better than others and appear overconfident instead. They soon unbend. As for experience – what does that matter, unless you’re aiming to be a writing-course junkie? Of which there are plenty. No – you want to write, and will be reassured to know that some of the most successful novelists who have attended my courses were raw novices.

So what was the secret of their success? How did that literary flowering happen to them?

Firstly, it didn’t happen to them – they made it happen. They left the workshop with a sense that they had something to say and the right to say it. Fired up, they set to work.

That’s it? Just like that?

Of course not. The hard part lay ahead – all the hours, days, months of commitment; starting over; getting it wrong – and then, miraculously, getting it right. The secret, if there’s any, is persistence. That’s the quality distinguishing the winners from the also-rans.

You’re saying that’s all I need, then? Something to say, permission to say it, and persistence?

And the tools – the ability to translate your idea, your characters, to the page; the artistry to create and sustain an illusion of reality that will grip your reader from start to finish. Skills that take years and unrelenting determination.

Ok, ok – I’ve got it. Years and years of sticking with it. What’s the point, then, of a brief course?

It’s a start – a kick-start. But it depends what you’re looking for – what you really, really want.

Hmm. What do I want? To write. To put that little idea I’ve been nurturing to the test. To find a safe place in an environment where writing fiction is taken seriously. To learn, to explore, to create, to put my aspirations to the test …

All these things are achievable in a carefully facilitated course. And the fact that you don’t include ‘being a writer’ among your aspirations (the kiss of death, if ever there was one) tells me that you should take the plunge. It might not make you rich or famous but there’s an excellent chance that your tiny idea will change your life.

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