One of the comments from my previous post about writing workshops has prompted me to say that you don’t need to spend money in order to write. I’ve sung the praises of workshops on this blog – and I am a fan of them – but don’t kid yourself that you must go to workshops in order to get better at writing. I know, or have heard of, plenty of successful poets, published by prestigious presses, who’ve never attended a workshop in their lives, although they now sometimes run writing workshops themselves. In this post, I’ll look at some alternative, minimum or no cost means of developing your writing.
For years, I wrote in isolation, showing my work to no one, although I sometimes sent writing to publishers for consideration and received a sort of feedback in the form of rejection slips. I started many projects – poetry, prose, scripts, word and image – and abandoned them all. It wasn’t until I was a student, first at Bournemouth University studying Film and TV Scriptwriting, then at Chichester Uni studying English with Media Studies, and finally at the University of East Anglia studying for an MA in Creative Writing, that I completed pieces of work in order to fulfill the criteria for various CW modules. Being a student and being given the time and encouragement to write made the difference to me. However, it’s worth remembering that I had put in years of groundwork. I might not have benefited from attending university writing courses and workshops if I hadn’t already written a lot. And I read a lot – although my reading became more focused and extensive at university.
I’m really sorry that successive governments in the UK have made it harder or impossible for mature students like me to return to full-time education to study. I had all my fees paid and received a small maintenance grant from my local authority when I was an undergraduate, and received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to complete my MA. If I hadn’t been funded, I wouldn’t have returned to full-time education, it’s as simple as that. So how would I proceed now, if I wanted to take my writing to the next level?
When I returned to writing in 2009/10, after a long spell of not writing (mainly to do with needing to earn an income, caring for children, being depressed – I won’t go into it all again) one of the books that helped my poetry was Peter Sansom’s Writing Poems (published by Bloodaxe). At that point, I hadn’t written much poetry at all (because I wrote prose and scripts) but I’d been carrying this book around with me for years, ever since it had been recommended to me by my lecturers at Chichester University. The book includes sections on form, metre, line breaks, rhythm, and rhyme, among many other things, plus there are writing exercises and prompts to try, and recommendations of poets and books (to be fair, this could do with updating unless there’s been a recent re-print, but, even so, there is much to be recommended in this book). If money is tight, ask your library to order a copy (if they don’t already stock it) or find a copy to borrow.
And, talking of which, ask at your local library for information about writing and reading groups near you. Sometimes librarians run groups like this themselves or are in touch with relevant local projects. A few years ago, I offered writing groups free of charge in my local town museum and advertised them at the library – look out for similar offers. The Community Librarian is the person to ask for.
The internet is awash with good advice and tips for writing. A particularly good site is Helena Nelson’s blog which often includes practical advice about what to do with your writing. Her excellent piece ’32 ways of reviving a rejected poem’ is a case in point.
Look out for free MOOCs – massive open online courses. The University of Iowa ran ‘How Writers Write Poetry’ which I found helpful.
Something else you could consider doing is joining forces with someone else or a small group to read and comment on each other’s writing. Even simply reflecting back to the writer what you are understanding as a reader will be helpful and will highlight any discrepancies between a writer’s intentions and a reader’s comprehension (which the writer might or might not choose to take into consideration when re-drafting).
I feel that there will be more to add to this post over time. You might like to add your own suggestions and recommendations below. The best advice I’ve ever been given is to keep reading and keep writing.