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How You Can Improve Your Writing In Just A Week

July 28th, 2017

Several years ago, a teacher friend put one of her ex-students in touch with me for some advice about writing. This lovely young woman had just completed a master’s degree in creative writing and wasn’t sure what to do next – how to progress what she had learned. We had coffee, which somehow slipped into drinks and over a few glasses of wine we discussed the virtues of her course, what she thought she would achieve on it and what she did actually accomplish.  There was, needless to say, quite a short fall between expectation and reality.

Now, I’m not dissing a master’s degree, most definitely not, and the master’s degree that my lovely protégée completed was a good one, an excellent one, from a Russell Group University. In fact I’m not dissing any help a writer can get, it’s a lonely and difficult profession, but what I’d like to discuss here is exactly what we do when we come together on a writing course, what we should hope to achieve and why a week’s course is such a great thing to do; inspiring, motivational and instructive – in ways that an intensive, expensive degree may not be.

I used the phrase ‘come together on a writing course’ very specifically, because the partnership between tutor and student and the camaraderie between attendees on a small course is an integral part of the creative process. I have spent thousands of hours alone in front of my computer, as I know many writers do. I have paced miles and miles of lonely streets, pinpointing the locations for my novels and I have given up great chunks of time in solitude in the library for research. This is not a people profession but the paradox is that we need interaction to stimulate creativity. No work was ever made in a bubble. We work alone, but we shouldn’t be alone, at least not all of the time and on a creative writing course we get interaction, a sharing of ideas, a smorgasbord of writers’ brains to test our characters and plots and descriptions on, in a professional and nurturing environment. We are all there with the same aim; to write and, although we work alone – most of us have to have solitude to write, in order to create, to make the patterns that complete a novel – having others around us is inspiring and to my mind, essential.

And let’s not forget the enjoyment – the fun, social aspect of coming together for a short course either. Like-minded people, with similar interests, and in the case of the course at Maison Du Guit, a beautiful setting, peace and tranquillity to write, amazing food and wine and how could it not be fun? I have always found that teaching in small groups we get to know each other better, can enjoy a good laugh and feel a real sense of social cohesion at the end of the course. I have been on courses and met writers that I have ended up working with, along with friends that I am still close to, many years later.

However, you come on a course to learn and not just to eat fab food and get inspired. You come in order to take something away with you that will change the way you think or write or create, and this, I believe, is where a short writing course comes into its own. A five day course will take you through concrete ways to enhance your writing, exercises to practise your skills on and insightful editorial feedback on your work that is useful and practical. We do discuss ideas, we will look at examples of good fiction and dissect them to see how they are written, how they work thematically, but that is about as abstract as it gets. A short writing course is a hands-on course for people who write or want to write. We will start at the beginning and work our way through from planning plot, with an easy model to apply to your early ideas, to characterisation, thinking about how to make your characters real and how to create a relationship between your reader and your character so that it matters to your audience what happens to them. We will discuss setting and do exercises to hone our skills at creating a sense of place and we will look at story arcs, the crisis point in a novel and how to end with a bang and not a whimper. If, like my protégée, you expect to come away from the course knowing more about how to write then that is exactly what will happen.

Finally, as a tutor, my job is about giving you the tools to write. In the lovely Maison Du Guit, with its stretching views, peaceful grounds, cool silken water in the pool; with its sunshine and warm hospitality there is no better place to write and become what you want to be. I can’t make you a writer, but this course will encourage you to believe that you are one.

Maria Barrett started her career as a UK equities broker and worked in the city for five years before writing a city thriller that made the best seller lists. Since then she has run two training businesses and has over 25 years of publishing and writing experience, with ten best-selling novels translated into 15 languages, behind her. Maria’s novels have consistently been part of the WH Smith ‘Best Summer Reads’ campaigns, she has been widely reviewed and has had abridged versions in audio, in text books and as part of the Reader’s Digest compilations. She has also written articles for magazines and National newspapers, including The Times, Woman’s Own and The Daily Mail. Maria is an experienced tutor and has been teaching writing for over twelve years. Her posts include course tutor on the MA and BA in creative writing at Bath University, tutor at Brunel University on the MA in business writing and a tutor for Cambridge Assessment.


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