Julie's Quest

Hello, and welcome to my blog. My blog is about the trials and tribulations of writing, where we celebrate successes and commiserate our near misses. We tell it like it is here and will do our very best to help you on the road to being published and pick you up after the rejections (they will come!) Whether you are a professional or amateur writer you will find something useful here.

I hope you enjoy reading my posts and will visit again soon.

Happy Writing

Julie Phillips - freelance writer - member of the Association of Freelance Writers - member of the Society of Authors

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Are writing courses for you?

I did a Creative Writing course with the Open University in 2007 and passed it in 2008. It was a nine month course and yes it was rather like having a baby! I chose the OU as I'd done a degree with them in the late 1990's, and felt it was a case of better the devil you know. There are many other companies offering a variety of creative writing courses out there, but I can only comment on the OU course. Perhaps someone with experience of other courses would be kind enough to comment? It can be confusing for people to know which course, if any would suit their needs best. Do you need to take a course at all? There are many successful writers out there who have never done a writing course, but if you feel that you are floundering in a sea of writing and you can't see any land to head for, then a writing course may just be what you need.

You can, of course, buy any of a multitude of writing books that are on the market. I've done it, and found the majority of the ones I've read to be extremely useful. But I still felt that something was missing. I had no real benchmark upon which to measure how my work would stand up in the scary and seemingly impenetrable world of publishing. The course I did had online forums were work could be discussed and critiqued by my fellow students, and I had access to a tutor who would 'mark' my work and give me pointers on where I was going astray, and how I could improve my writing. It had a big red book to read about how to write which was very good. All in all it was a good course, and the real test for me was whether I could pass it or not. When I did I realised that hey, my writing wasn't as bad as I thought it was (although others may disagree!) And that was the key for me. It not only gave me tools I needed to improve my writing, but it gave my flagging confidence a real and much needed boost too.

It wasn't all plain sailing though, and there were frequent times when I felt like giving up. I was lucky. I worked part time and had a supportive husband who would take over looking after our daughter so that I could do the course. I had the determination and the courage to see the course through to the bitter end, even a life changing diagnosis coudn't stop me, such was my drive to write. If you only think that you'd quite like to be a writer, then this course isn't for you. It involves a hell of a lot of hard work and creativity. It's not for the faint-hearted. If you don't want anyone to rip your lovingly and painstakingly crafted words to shreds then don't do this course! It can be soul destroying to recieve a lower mark for your work than you had anticipated after you put everything you thought you had into your work. I nearly threw my pen and paper away for good at several times throughout the course! It certainly sorts out the serious writers from those just doing it for a laugh, and the course didn't come cheap either.

The online forums, although beneficial, only work properly if your tutor group and tutor are willing to contribute to it. There were only about five out of the twenty in my group that bothered to join in. This was extremely disappointing, as was the low turnout at the two face to face group tutorials we had. Both these days were held in Telford, locally. When I did my degree I had to travel to Birmingham for these.

There are five TMAs (assignments/essays) that we had to write, plus an ECA (End of Course Assessment). Look on the OU website for further details.

I did enjoy the course, on the whole, and it certainly got me writing and writing to a better standard. It can't have been too bad as I'm missing the work and am currently deciding which of their Creative Writing courses to start this October.

If you're thinking about doing a course here are some things that I would advise you to consider:

1. Cost - can you afford to do it. The OU has a monthly payment option, and you may be entitled to concessions. Go on the website or phone the company/educational facility offering the coursess to find out.

2.Time - can you spare the time to do the course, fit it around your other commitments?

3. Credibility - what qualification do you get and how is it regarded in the publishing/writing world?

4. Talk to other people who have done the course you're thinking of doing, or who've done other similar courses for what their experience of it was.

5. Try and get hold of the textbooks/other materials used on the course and look through them to get a feel for what the course is like and whether it would suit your needs.

6. Go on the website or request a prospectus and information for the courses you want to take. Read them carefully. Speak to their advisers. Does the course sound just up your street?

7. What's the university's/company's/other educational establishment's track record? Does it feel right to you? What qualifications/experiences do the tutors have?

There is a wide choice of courses available to you, and if you do the ground work and research your options, you may be very glad that you did the course. Of course, doing a course does not guarantee a publishing contract, but it can set you on the right track which means your manuscript, because it's presented professionally, and is well written, may just be taken off the slush pile, leaving those manuscripts from those who don't know what they're doing to languish there.

Happy writing!


Fee said...

What a wonderful informative post. Thank you Julie. You must have read my mind. I was thinking of doing a creative writing course and was unsure which path to follow.

I am still unsure which route I will go but know I am going to stick with Wrekin Writers definitely.

Best wishes and thinking of you.


Suzanne said...

Another great post, Julie.



klahanie said...

Hi Julie,
Thank you for this blog that informs us of the various options regarding writing courses.
I would certainly consider using the resources available. The next big step for me is to challenge my anxiety and lack of confidence regarding writing. Something for me to think about. Thanks very much.
Thank you for your empathetic comments on my blog. It is most appreciated. Take good care.
Warm wishes, Gary.

Julie P said...

Hi Suzanne, and thanks re birthday salutations! Have you had a good day too?

Julie P said...

Hi, Gary! I'm glad that you found my blog post helpful. That's what makes everything so difficult - the anxiety and lack of self confidence. But I know you can do it, because I managed it! I find writing very therapeutic and helps me to move forward, rejections or successes, it's al progress.
Take care.

Nicola said...

Hi Julie,

Hope you've had a good week - any more writing successes to report?

Thanks so much for taking the time to write this post. There are a lot of reviews on the OU website about their creative writing courses. While these are helpful and often insightful, it's really good to have a more independent point of view.

By the way, I wonder if other readers of your blog are aware that a sample of the materials from the OU creative writing courses are available free of charge on their website, (in the Open Learn section)? These might be worth a look if someone is considering taking a course.

Thanks again for writing this post. I've got lots to think about now!

Nicola xx

Julie P said...

Hi Nicola! I'm glad you found the blog helpful. Yes the OU are pretty good with info on their courses. I didn't know they gave free samples though, so thanks for that. I'm writing an article on this subject at the moment and was wondering if I could use your comments in it?I'm trying to get a balance of views, and I know you did a course at the Gateway, didn't you? How did you find it? I've got some comments from OU course users, but could do with some views from someone who's done a course elsewhere. Are you up for it?!

Only success this week is another letter in the Shropshire Star yesterday. I sent two short stories off yesterday to a woman's mag too! No more rejections yet.
See you soon! Julie.

Suzanne said...

Congratulations on your letter, Julie.


Nicola said...

Hi Julie,

Congratulations on getting another letter published and good luck with the short stories. I know it's only a matter of time before you succeed in your quest!

Of course you can use my comments in your article, and I'd be happy to tell you about the Gateway course too.

I did two hours per week there over two years and we covered pretty much everything from scriptwriting to hiaku. The emphasis was more on fiction than non-fiction but we did our fair share of the latter too.

The most important thing for me was the weekly assignment as it ensured I wrote regularly - for me, that's usually on a Sunday morning. It's almost a year now since the course finished and it's that discipline I'm missing - hence my interest in the OU course, I think.

I still meet up frequently with the people who did the course with me so if you need any more comments I'm sure they'd be only too happy to help.

Feel free to contact me via email as well by the way, if you want me to comment on specific things. (I'm sure my email address will be on one of the emails from Wrekin Writers.) I don't want to take up too much space on your blog with my comments!

I thought a lot about the issues you raised in your blog and decided to request more info about the OU course. My only concern now is when will I find the time to do it?

N xx

Julie P said...

Thanks, Nicola, I really appreciate your help. And I certainly will email you. I miss my course too! You're right, it's definately the discipline that you have to have for these courses. They certainly get you writing to a deadline which is great. Time is an important factor when thinking about which course is right for you. It's very difficult, but I certainly have no regrets over the course I did as it's got me writing for Britain!!

Julie P said...

Thanks, Suzanne! Both me and my Uncle Peter had a letter on the same letters page which was bizzare!!