Write, Learn, Write, Repeat

Blacklock coverTonight I’m starting a course all about “What Women Want”. Now, before you get too excited, it’s not a dating course and I’ve not decided to switch my romantic preferences. It’s a writing course all about Women’s Fiction, run by the amazing Dianne Blacklock through the NSW Writers’ Centre. A course all about Women’s Fiction – my idea of happy a place, I’m thinking.

Those of you who’ve been following me for while will know that some time back I became a bit of a ‘course convert’, so I’m quite excited to be embarking on this program of study for the next six weeks.

snoopy double rejectionWhy this course and why now? Well, as some of you know, I’ve come heartbreakingly close a few times now (heart-break-ing-ly close) to getting that elusive “yes”, but I’m still waiting to hear it. There must be a reason I’m getting so close but not over the line, so I figure maybe this course can help me figure out what’s missing from my writing; what that mysterious element is that will take me from “I came very close” (exact words of one rejection from an uber agent) to “Yes, I want you”.

All the writing courses I’ve done so far have taught me something, and often not what I was expecting to learn from them. But each time I’ve been left with some little nugget of advice, or some slight shift in the way I approach my writing that I believe has help me grow. Some of the things I’ve taken away from courses that have surprised me, either because I was ignorant beforehand or because it was a new way to look at things are:

  1. Your “central event” may not be what you think it is. (Kate Forsyth – Plotting and Planning). This was an interesting lesson to learn, because, surely as the creator of my work I know what my central event is, right? I wrote it, I designed it that way. I know my central event. Nope. youre a writer whenWhen Kate made us take a closer look at our own work and really look at it with a questioning mind, she was right! What I thought was my central event for Kookaburra Creek, actually wasn’t. It was a different event entirely. Now that makes one look at one’s own work quite differently.
  2. Different characters will notice different things about a place. (Felicity Castagna – Writing a Sense of Place). This gave me a whole new way to look at my physical descriptions of places in Cupcakes, making me look at a scene through their eyes instead of mine – they would notice different things to what I would notice. And, looking at things differently depending on whose point of view (POV) I was writing from. There are multiple POVs in Cupcakes and the way Alice sees her café (with fresh young eyes, nervous, excited, a place that might offer her hope) is most definitely different to the way Hattie does (old, tired eyes looking at an old friend that held so much hope, but also so much sadness) and this lead me to one of my favourite scenes in the whole story.
  3. When making up a place, it’s even more important to make it unique. (Felicity Castagna – Writing a Sense of Place). When I first heard this, I assumed she was talking about Fantasy and the world building needed in such novels, but she meant no matter what type of place you’re making up. Even my little Aussie country towns. Why? They’re made up. No one knows what they’re supposed be like. And that’s the very reason why. Because if I used existing country towns, then people will ‘fill in’ the blanks with their own knowledge (assumed or learned) of that place and what makes it special, what it looks like, feels like, what the people are like. When making up my own little country towns, I have to be so clear about what makes them special, what will make my readers want to go to town I’ve created if they could, what will make them feel all the feels they’re supposed to without any prior knowledge, what will make them remember it.
  4. A reader will be bored well before you are. Before editing, read your manuscript as a reader, no pen in hand. snoopy bad story(Bernadette Foley – What Publishers Want). This was one of those light bulb moments. I always thought that, given I was reading the thing again and again, if I wasn’t bored by read-through number 99, then surely my readers wouldn’t be bored the first time through. WRONG! Of course I’m not bored. I love the bloomin’ thing; I’ve sweated it, bled it, given it life. Readers don’t have the same emotional connection to your book, your characters, your places. They will get bored and they will give up. Unless you give them a reason not to.
  5. Everything that happens to your characters has to happen as a natural extension of their character arc. (Toni Jordan – Refining the Manuscript). There are no accidents. Even an accident can’t be an “accident”; it has to be something that is part of the trajectory the character was always on. This was a biggy for me. BIGGY. This doesn’t mean the reader can predict what’s going to happen, but more that you as the author know what choices your characters are likely to make in the situations you’ve put them in that might lead to those “accidents”. This meant a major rewrite for how one of my characters behaved very early on in Kookaburra Creek that lead him to how his journey ends. (I’m deliberately not giving away details here because you’re all going to rush out and buy Kookaburra Creek if no when it gets published, and I don’t want to spoil it for you).
  6. Write, figure out what book you’ve written, then write your book. (Toni Jordan – Refining the Manuscript). Read that again. It’s a gem. Especially as a pantser.

So, I’m going into this course mind completely open, hopeful that I’ll come away with a small something, lots of small somethings, that will help me improve just that little bit more and take me one step closer to realising this tantalisingly close dream.snoopy EducationalWhat about you? Whether for writing or in any other area, have you ever done a course where you’ve learned something unexpected? Let me know in the comments below.


Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-mar-2016

21 thoughts on “Write, Learn, Write, Repeat

  1. meredithgschorr

    Great points and, you’re right, there is always something to learn. I’m not a big fan of formal writing courses, but I do learn something from reading other books as well as from comments I receive from my beta readers/.editor with each book I write. I find that I take those lessons with me into each book I write. As a result I truly believe each book I write is better than the one before it. Good luck with your agent search!

    1. sandiedocker Post author

      I agree. I think the day we stop learning is the day we stop living. Whether it’s from a course, a book, or fellow writers, no matter where we are on this journey, there’s always something we can learn.

  2. Jayne Denker

    Cool stuff, Sandie! I haven’t taken a writing course since college, but I learn every day–whenever someone new reads my stuff. It’s amazing, the things other readers, whether they’re betas or editors or strangers who have purchased one of my books, zero in on that I never noticed or never would have thought of on my own. It’s true that everyone’s reading experience is unique because of what they bring to a story. When we can accept that feedback and learn from it, we’re growing as authors.

    1. sandiedocker Post author

      It’s true, isn’t it, that other people pick up something in our writing that we didn’t even see. One of the things I love about working with my CPs or editors is how something they point out can lead me in a direction I hadn’t even thought of. And there’s always room to grow.

  3. Brea Brown

    I’m not a big fan of the formal writing course, but I do geek out over books about writing, and I love the gems you shared above. There’s always more to learn!

    1. sandiedocker Post author

      Yep. I think no matter where we are on the journey there is ALWAYS something else to learn. Doesn’t matter where from or from whom, as long as we’re open to it.

  4. paulinewiles

    Having been to a few writing conferences now, I can confirm that agents look far more favourably on writers who are willing to invest time, money and attitude in professional development. Your mindset in considering this stuff already puts you way ahead of the crowd. I enjoyed the insights you shared above – particularly the one about readers getting bored. All the best with Cupcakes!

  5. Julie Valerie @Julie_Valerie

    Have you ever thought about teaching a course in writing? I think you’d be GREAT at it!

    Me? I’m addicted to taking classes. Addicted to conferences, too. I love the world of books and writing so much, if I’m not writing, then I want to be learning ABOUT writing. Or socializing with other writers and book people. Can’t get enough of it. Think I’ll be 100 years old, sitting in an English class, happy as a clam.

    1. sandiedocker Post author

      Thanks Julie. I do have a teaching background, so….. Maybe once I’m a famous bestselling author (when, not if; when, not if…) I can teach about writing. I’d love it.

      One of the girls last night said she was a “seminar junkie”. Sounds like you. One of the best bits about doing courses (and conferences and festivals etc) is immersing yourself in the world of books with like-minded people. To me it feels like home.

      I’m picturing you in a writing class, 100 yrs old, thin grey hair, teeth all gone, smacking your gums together….

  6. cinthiaritchie

    Love these, especially number five. That is a biggy, and one that I think I really need to work on, too. Also, I think it’s hard for writers to realize that readers do and will get bored (because, after all, our precious words are never boring, right?) and that we might actually, gasp, be going on a bit too long here and there. Another much needed lesson. Thanks so much for sharing these tips/insights.

    1. sandiedocker Post author

      A writer getting caught up in the importance of their own words?? Never!! LOL. This is why we need someone with a little distance from the project to give us a little “wake up”, right?

  7. Shelly Hickman

    I’ve never taken a writing course, but thought your first point was intriguing, that your central event may not be what you thought it was. Something I will try to keep in mind in the future.

    1. sandiedocker Post author

      It was a really interesting take. I, of course, didn’t believe her – of course I know my central event! Then she stepped us through some questions, and we all discovered we were wrong. 😉

  8. Krystal Jane

    These courses sound very interesting! I’ve never taken anything like them. I had writing workshops. There was a few weeks of story mechanics and studying other writers, then we spent the rest of the semester writing, reading each other’s works, giving critiques, editing, and then writing again.

    Of course, it’s impossible for me to be boring…of course. ;P


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