Five lessons learnt, from a writing student
(Because it’s not as easy as some might think)
1. It’s like a love-hate relationship – I’ll write something, and think, ‘Wow, this is awesome, I’m going to be the next Tolkien!’ And then a few days later I’ll have a critical re-read and think, ‘Wow, I should most definitely never show anything I write to anyone, ever.’ Then, after a few days of self-loathing, I’ll get excited and think, ‘If I can see the holes in this work, then I know how to make it better. And if there’s a possibility to make it better, isn’t that exciting?’ Then the whole process will start again.
2. Re-dream the dream – I read this in a how to write book and at first I thought, ‘This is B.S.’ Now, after three drafts of my novel-in-progress, I’ve realised this is one of truest things about writing. If I’m not willing to rework something until it works, if I’m not willing to cut out chunks of work, whole chapters or that sentence I think everyone will marvel over, then I’m not going to write to the best of my ability, and my stubbornness may see that my dream never becomes a reality. If something isn’t actually working, it has to go, no matter how much I love it.
3. I’m my best and worst critic – As a writer, I have to be critical of my work. Thinking that the sun shines out of my butt isn’t going to win me any fans or favours. Being critical helps me to be realistic about what’s working and what isn’t. But being too critical can kill all my creativity and send me into self-imposed creative exile. Finding the balance when it comes to critiquing my writing is difficult, but essential.
4. Everyone is in the same boat – everyone feels self-conscious about their writing, everyone is terrified to show their work to others. We’re all not sure if we can do this writing thing.
5. It’s more than a full-time job – I’m not sure how much time other people spend studying for their respective uni courses, but I’ve found that writing is definitely a twenty-four-seven job. Steven King says that a writer should dedicate four to six hours per day to reading and writing. When I first read that, I was gobsmacked. But he’s right; like lawyers and doctors, you’re always on call, and the hours of studying you put in are going to show later on.
Five things I wish I knew before I started my writing course
1. That there was going to be so much writing
It sounds silly. “They actually want you to actually write and produce new stuff all the time?” You have a few short stories up your sleeve but after the end of the first semester the well of ideas becomes dry and the failure to produce new and well thought out fiction and non-fiction becomes real.
2. That you would have to read so much
“Read a lot and read broadly” each teacher will tell you at the start of the semester. And that’s not to mention the giant readers they make you slug around to each class and set books to read. Where do you have time to read your own favourites?
3. Workshop, workshop, workshop
Apart from writing your own stuff and reading your own books, you have to read your class members work and write on their work. Give constructive feedback (even if you don’t like it, or you can’t find anything to say).
4. And then you would have to write again
Second semester, you start fresh! Over the break you have worked on some chapters on the novel that you will immediately publish at the end of the course. But amongst the workload and workshopping and research assignment; where on earth do you have the inspiration and fuel to write something new? Looks like you will have to wait to the next holidays.
5. You can get a perfect mark and you will still hate it
Nothing that you ever write will be good enough. Don’t worry though; this feeling won’t leave once you finish the course.
Five things nobody told you would happen after completing a writing course.
1. You’ll become that annoying person that corrects everyone
I hope you’re ready to embrace being #foreveralone because all your friends are going say ‘bye Felicia’ when you start dissecting their sentence structure and correcting their every word. Apparently no one likes that, so resist the urge to let them know your right and they are wrong.
2. You’ll never be able to enjoy a novel again
Being a writer means always being on and therefore hard to enjoy a book when all you can see are its mistakes. I have yet to find a good way to turn it off so try to use it to your advantage, and try not to question why you can’t get published but this shit can.
3. Teenage ‘nobody understands me’ doesn’t count as poetry
I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t write my fair share of bad (read terrible) poetry, but you really don’t realise how bad it is until you complete a course or class dedicated to only poetry. Did you know there are several forms of poetry? Me neither. There are rules too. I have to say, it has become less fun, but I find I’m happier with the end result.
4. You’ll find yourself yelling at strangers
On outings you may meet new people, you may engage in small talk and they may ask you what you do and you will say writer – in some variation; Novelist, Journalist, freelance writer, whatever. They may be in an entirely different field and say something like: ‘I think I have a book in me’. I urge you not to go with your instinct and blast them. Remain calm and entertain their delusions, hopefully you’ll never have to speak to them again. This will happen to you multiple times before you begin to lie about your career.
5. Look forward to unemployment
When I decided to switch from perusing a fine arts course to a writing course because there is no money in being an artist, I wish someone had told me there was also the same amount of no-money in writing. You’ll need to be thrifty and frugal when it comes to making a career out of writing. Expect to have multiple jobs.
(My note: Don't worry, Kristina, with the skills you have learned, you'll be a better employment prospect in just about any job you apply for. Hey, you know what a verb tense is! And you can write clear, readable sentences. That puts you ahead of most people in my experience.)