First Footings

I was lucky enough to have some funds put by for the purpose, so searched around on the Internet for likely creative writing courses. It was a quagmire! Everyone and his aunt professed to know how to write, but most seemed to be earning their crust by writing about how to write, without doing any actual writing themselves. Was I too cynical? Perhaps! In the end, I decided to favour a UK based programme, that appeared replete with favourable testimonies and I parted with £600 of my hard earned cash. There were different formats of writing, but I thought the short story would cover most bases and give me a good start.

The course overview and projected tutorials looked fantastic. You could study at your own pace and you had up to two years to complete the twenty or so assignments. I hoped to do it in less than ten months, taking into account the two weeks my allocated, published author, tutor was allowed before responding. I planned, if making good progress, to reapply for the MA even before finishing the course. I knew though that I had to be realistic and that I might need to buy into a second programme: perhaps the one for aspiring novelists, or the one on memoir. I already had my long term project in mind and it straddled both these camps.

The course materials and first three assignments were sent via an email link and I got stuck in. The first task was just 300 words and, because the second task was there I went straight on with it. There was a note though, to wait for feedback before moving on to the third task. There was no problem with thinking around it though, right? So I did. I was keen.

Three weeks after I’d sent my first assignment off, I’d not heard back. The second assignment was in my out tray and the third was burning a hole in my head. I emailed the tutor. Nothing! I emailed again, copied to the ‘head of school’. Nothing! Then I emailed directly to the head of school, who responded with an apology that the tutor had been unwell and would respond shortly. Three days later, five weeks after my submission, I received my feedback. It was pertinent and, although three weeks late, worth waiting for – it looked as though my money was well spent.

Having given assignment two the once over and a few heavy edits in light of the feedback, I winged it off for my guru’s perusal. I was making progress; I would be a writer. The next three weeks tick-tocked by: I heard nothing. Four weeks, and I was climbing the walls. I emailed the head of school, who responded that writers were very busy people and she was sure she’d get back to me soon. She didn’t. I emailed again, vociferously. This time I was told my tutor was on a book tour and had forgotten to tell them. They were sorry, but she promised to contact me in the next two days. Bingo, she did, and again it was great stuff. She sent too a profuse apology – stating someone close to her had died and she’d been too emotionally wrecked to tend to her work. Really! Well, she was a writer!

I threw myself in to assignment three, pouring my heart and soul into it. I tweaked it, I honed it, I ate it, drank it, breathed it, dreamt it and sent it off five days later. I was sure it would be good enough to make the grade, to show an upward trajectory in my learning and prove my commitment to this art of writing. Perhaps it would even be one of those chosen for publication on the course website. Perhaps not. But it wasn’t until it had been sent that my placated frustration re-emerged. There was no assignment four to flex my muscles, it would arrive with the next feedback – scheduled for two weeks but likely longer if history repeated. It was longer, and although I could see the worth of the course, it was not proving enough. I was so hungry, I could have devoured any number of writers whole – in the cannibalistic belief, you become what you eat. I needed to keep up the impetus, so returned to the net and trawled again, my money had to buy more than Jack Sprat or herrings.

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Mapping the Writing Journey

At thirteen I wrote poetry, revisiting the practice throughout my teen years. Then I didn’t. I forgot about it, more or less, thought I might get back to it some day.

At forty I tried my hand at children’s stories. I had kids, taught teens, knew all about them – how could I fail? Like most would be writers, I had other and often more immediate draws on my time – life. It was not only the kids, but a career, a difficult marriage and a lack of belief. Don’t get me wrong, I thought I could do it, even won a couple of competitions ( a children’s story / a tv script) – but I didn’t, absolutely, without a cloud of doubt, totally know I could do it. Not then.

Then, a few years back and flying solo, I made a decision: I bowed out from my career to follow that old dream. How better to learn the craft than to study it at an academic level. I already had a degree, so an MA seemed the answer. Wrong. Well for me, then, it was wrong. I’d assumed I would get a place (I’d be paying) but, without a considered portfolio and only a week to produce one, I fell flat on my face. ‘You can’t write,’ I was told and, ‘Your academic experience is too long ago.’ Erm, my life as a successful English teacher was being called into question. How dare they? Then I pondered on two points: i) my writing might just be too bound by ‘the rules’ and ii) to find the means to prove them wrong. Of, course, I don’t even know if they’d really read my application, but I took them at their word. I knew then, to succeed I’d have to unlearn then relearn; I’d have to crash the ivory tower right down to the ground, smash it to pieces and build it anew.

And that is where this story begins …