As a teacher of English, I’ve always wondered whether I could actually write myself. Sure, I spend hours every week teaching pupils how to write creatively, and I know all of the theory behind it, but that’s not the same as actually doing it, and there is that old adage, “Those who can do it, do it. Those who can’t, teach.”
I decided that it was probably time to set myself a challenge and to get some writing done myself. I didn’t really know where to start, but fancied the idea of doing some sort of further study. An MA is an appealing prospect, but it’s a huge amount of work, and I didn’t feel that I really needed the qualification for my career. There are also several paid online courses that looked good, but these tended to end in having a whole novel ready for publication, and I didn’t feel ready to go that far yet.
So many free courses to choose from, and perfect for keeping the brain ticking during lockdown.
I found the OpenLearn page of the Open University, which offers free courses on a wide range of different subjects. They do a ‘Start Writing Fiction’ course, which at 12 hours in length, looked like a great introduction to getting back into writing. The course explores how authors create their characters and settings and looked at the different genres for fiction. This, I thought, could be just the thing.
The 12 hours of work took the following main forms:
- Reading notes in the online tutorials – these recapped on the ‘basics’, great for acknowledging that everyone is starting at a different place, and talked me through the main points about character, setting and genre. They introduced all the meta language needed to understand the other reading material
- Reading through selected chapters from academic texts – these were all provided online, with only the relevant sections that you needed. They often included short excerpts from novels, which worked well as examples
- Lots of short writing activities, all of which were linked to the reading materials – these made me approach my writing in different ways, and reflect upon what I had just learnt
- There was one audio file towards the end to listen to, with authors discussing their views about genre
At first, it was quite strange getting back into the idea of reading chapters from academic texts, and then reflecting upon them – something that I haven’t really done for 20 years when I did my BA – but I soon found that I was enjoying studying again, and made copious notes in the same longhand way that I had as a student.
The writing tasks were also a little daunting at first. As a teacher, I’m used to asking pupils to undertake similar tasks, and it was a useful exercise in empathy to have a go at it myself. Conclusion: it’s not as easy as it looks to write within someone else’s ‘rules’, and you sometimes need a lot of prompts to get you going. I found that I relied on the internet for visual images, and that this will definitely be something that I’ll be recommending in the classroom from now on.
I found that whilst I was doing the writing tasks, whether they were about character or setting, I was actually beginning to develop a couple of characters in detail. One of the writers whose blog I follow, suggested keeping a note book of sketches and ideas, and I can see now how by doing so, stories start to form and these sketches may start to stitch themselves together. I made a lot of mistakes, and I’m not convinced that any of the writing was any good, but I felt that I was learning how to write again and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I feel that this course definitely made me think seriously about whether or not a could write fiction (I’m still not sure at all at this stage!) and if it was something that I’d like to pursue. It made me aware of some of the strengths and weaknesses of my fiction writing, and corrected a few really basic mistakes that I’d been making, such as not referring to the setting enough and including too much description early on.
The course gave me the confidence to redraft a few earlier stories that I’d done, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a little boost of courage to start writing fiction.