Friday, October 20, 2017

Students write about their writing course

I love how at this time of year, our Diploma nonfiction teacher, Michelle Fincke, asks her students to write about what they think/know they have learned while studying our course. Usually I post them one at a time, but these are all so different that I think they are a great example of "give a class a topic and every single one will approach it differently with their own style and voice".

Which is exactly what we aim for. We don't aim to produce cookie-cutter writers. We aim to teach skills and techniques, professionalism, and having confidence in your own voice. So here goes:

Anne Richardson​ on five things she's learnt from her writing course.

When I was in my mid-fifties a career change beckoned. Following my nose rather than a well-thought out plan, I enrolled in a professional writing and editing course. I had no clue when I started, and don’t have much now, but here’s what I know:

There’s lots to learn.
Genres, platforms, ethics, history, technique, craft, industry standards, grammar and punctuation…some of it you can choose, but lots of it you just have to know. Get your running shoes on. It’s hard to keep up.

It’s hard work.
Who knew how many hours it would take to write a 50 word bio, not to mention a blog, or a short story?

Your inner critic is on your side.
Keep a weather eye on her. Cultivate an equal relationship and make sure she knows who’s the boss.

You can’t do it on your own.
You’ll need to be brave and get used to sharing your work. The feedback of people you trust always makes your work better, even if it’s just because you know why you’re ignoring them.

You can’t do it all.
Learn everything, then pick the eyes out of it. Find out what you’re good at, what lights your spark and write that.

Anne Richardson

Image result for images of i am a writer

The start of the year on a university campus is full of students becoming disillusioned by the realisation they had picked the wrong course.
Not a lot of thought went into my decision to study writing, but here are some of the major points I would consider if I was making that decision now.

1. Grammar is important
In my first semester studying writing, I saw many students attempting to debate rules for use of grammar with my teacher. They insisted they had been taught different rules and
further refused to accept what they had been taught was wrong. Don’t do this—it doesn’t impress anyone and you’re probably going to look like an idiot.

2. The story you want to write isn’t always the one you end up writing
Having an idea of what you want to write and how it’s going to sound is good, but it isn’t a guarantee. Often a piece of work will take shape through the editing process and you will
discover that what you originally wanted to say and what you finished up with are not the same.

3. Not everyone who wants to write is cut out for it
Many hobby writers expect writing to be fun and fulfilling, which it can be. It just isn’t right away. Writing takes discipline, scrutiny and persistence. To properly, correctly articulate a message, to convey the right emotion and to have your words resonate is difficult. Keep in mind that underneath the prestige and perhaps fame you might be chasing, there is a mountain of hard-work that most people are not cut out for.

Emmanuel Giakoumakis

11127201_10206556475134706_8567167505085211335_n"Criticism is the heat that tempers writing"
Here are Stefan Downey Najdecki's thoughts on studying Professional Writing and Editing at VU.

The Five Wisdoms of a Young Writer.
If I had five cents for every time someone said “Writing is easy” or “I want to write a novel” I don’t know how much money I would have because I haven’t kept count.
However, writing is not easy and you won’t find it easy after reading some of the things I’ve learnt in the last years studying Professional Writing and Editing at VU but one of them might make it less of a challenge.

1.Know how you write.
Some authors forge diagrams and rustle into the wilds of extended backstories, down to knowing the name of their Hero’s (or Heroine’s) childhood soft-toy. These writers are ‘plotters’ and only start typing when they have a map of where to go.
Others fly by the seat of their pants, jumping headlong into the blank page and come out the other side drenched in thousands of words. These ‘pantsers’ type to their heart’s content and heavily edit later in the process.
Know which of these two you are, then write accordingly. The struggle to write might just be dislodged with knowledge of the Hero’s teddy-bear or an hour-long dive.

2.Beg, Borrow and Steal
Tolkien loved Norse Mythology, George R.R Martin took from the blood-red War of the Roses and E.L. James loved Twilight. Every author needs fuel to power their imagination, but you can’t find it staring into the abyss of a blank page.
Read widely into genres and nonfiction that you would never have picked up before your quest as a writer — flicking through Mills and Boon could reward you with the most stunning ideas for a high-fantasy epic or the report by the Financial Review on milk-powder imports spur a neo-dystopian poem.
Imagination comes from the most unlikely of places.

3. Learn grammar like I never learnt French
Just as I never got my five-cents each time someone commented on the ease of writing, I never was awarded my five-assarius curse upon grammar. Romans be damned.
Grasping grammar on a high level requires a whole new language-set to identify problems. Predicate Adjective, Demonstrative Pronoun & Present Perfect Continuous, all sound baffling without the framework behind them. Writing may be the tool of emotion and creativity but “It doesn’t feel right” won’t help the placement of your commas.
Good Grammar is good communication and the better communicated your ideas are, the happier people will be to enjoy them. So come at Grammar with the mindset of a language you’ve never known, not the witticisms that survived from primary school.

4.Criticism is the heat that tempers writing
Cook a cake, slave over an oven and hear someone say “That’s nice!” Try not to yell at them as the subtlety of the flavours couldn’t make it past their chilli-burnt palate. The same applies to writing.
Find someone who knows how to jump into your brain for just a moment and tell you what your writing is lacking. Workshopping, or Writer’s Groups, help chip off any imperfections that your writing has. As you also help others chip off theirs. The duality of learning from other’s mistakes and correcting your own is taken with a solemn step to polishing your work.
A writer in my course didn’t take advice, nor did they give advice, and their work could not prosper. Let others help you lift your writing higher up.

5.Just do it.
I sold-out for a few more five-cent pieces, but Dan Wieden & Nike are right.
Find the time in every day to write. Write something. Spend half an hour describing the feeling of mushy banana on your gums and you will have flexed your brain and progressed with your RSI. Each throw away paragraph digs deeper into the nugget of perfect writing underneath it.
This also means that you need to find the time to write. No scented candles, hand-pressed orange-juice or more-than-six-hours-sleep should be needed. For each time you sit down and just type is another moment you can steal away the day reading about milk-imports.
The perfect condition will never arise, nor the perfect author. Perfection is in every step forward.
So step out into the world and get writing.