Friday, 6 March 2009

Bonjour a tout le monde

Firstly thank-you for all the inspirational tips last week I shall definitely be trying some of them out.

This week we are celebrating one year to the day since our move to our new house and new departement of France, so we have Kir Royale [sparkling wine and creme de cassis] plus a selection of viennoiseries[croissants, pain au raisin, pain au chocolat] and for the sober ones amongst us there is coffee and tea[builders or herbal]. Sorry I forgot the tea last week!

Todays question is very straightforward, I am considering taking an online Creative Writing course as one way of getting my work critiqued by someone I don't know but who will be constructive. So if any of you can recommend a short[i.e. not expensive] course that you have either done yourself or are involved in I would appreciate it. It has to be online for obvious reasons! My level is fairly basic, "O" level English Lit and voracious reading of all Classic and Modern novels.

Part B of my question is can you also recommend any "How to" books that you have found particularly useful and/or inspiring. I have read Stephen Kings "On Writing" but that is about it and there are so many books of this type that it would be very easy to get sidetracked. I don't want to spend all my time reading rather than actually writing, but I do think the best books could be useful.

So basically I am hoping that you will do some of the legwork for me in weeding out the chaff.

We are off to Carcassonne for lunch today and to buy an extra window for our house so I shall look forward to reading all your suggestions later.

Have a good weekend everyone.


Kate.Kingsley said...


I'd LOVE a croissant and a cup of tea, but I have to have a glcose tolerance test this morning so am under medically enforced starvation :-(

The only online courses I have experince of are the OU ones (A174, A215 & currently A363). But they ain't short & they ain't cheap! Actually A174 is relatively short & cheap-ish (, but it is also fairly introductory, so for anyone with a bit of writing experience it might be a bit too basic.

A bit of a cliched choice, but I was very inspired by The Artist's Way (Julia Cameron), though it seems to be a bit of a love it/hate it book. Given that I'm pretty cynical I was surprised that I manage to over-look the moderate religious content & 'nourish your inner artist' type hippydom, & I got a lot from it, especially as regards getting your ego/critic out of the way & getting on with it.

Enjoy your lunch :-)

Kate said...

Yes, I was going to suggest one of the OU introductory courses, too - as Kate says, they're not cheap but you do get feedback both from the tutor and from the other students.

But if it's critique you're mainly after, have you thought either about joining Writewords (which has private forums) or paying for a critique from a literary consultancy? I know Zinnia had a mixed experience from the latter though.

I am a huge fan of How-To books. My favourite nitty-gritty ones are Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas and, slightly more British in tone, Wannabe a Writer.

I have a whole shelf full though so if you post more about whether you want exercises or inspiration etc, I'll post some more suggestions.

Right, back to the WIP. So I'd better have rocket fuel espresso. Have a lovely lunch!

Kate x

Lucy Diamond said...

Ooh Sheepish, you are spoiling us with the Kir Royales and viennoiseries... much more exciting than a cup of char and Marmite on toast which is my usual fare!
I thought the Donald Maass book was great too, would also recommend Bestseller by Celia Brayfield, and 'From Pitch to Publication' by Carole Blake for the practical, getting-published bit.
I am definitely going to break the 50,000 word barrier on the novel today, and just had a good idea for Novel 5 too... yay!

Flowerpot said...

Croissant for me please and Rooibosh tea - I can't take caffeine! I know several people who've done or are doing OU courses which seem to be very good. I did an online journalism course with the London School of Journalism who also do fiction courses and mine was brilliant. I started earning before I'd finsihed the course! As for How To book s- the Donald Maas one is great as is Escaping Into the Open by Elizabeth Berg. Enjoy your lunch!

ChrisH said...

Oh blimey I'm going to get tuck into Kir Royales and croissants - I have a half-marathon to run on Sunday, after all! I'm doing OU A215 this year, no it's not cheap (wondering if I can afford to carry on next year) but I've got so much out of it. I've become a much better reader, a much more critical reader (in a good way!)and feel far more confident about my range of creative writing.

Books? The outstanding one for me is the Maass, 'Writing the Breakout Novel workbook' , best for when you've written your first draft.

Leatherdykeuk said...

Plain croissant and tea, please. Happy anniversary!

I can't recommend any courses as I haven't done any, but I would recommend a couple of writer's sites and

I write in both places.

Books: The only essential is Brande's "Becoming a Writer."

Clare Sudders said...

creative Writing courses... sorry, don't know much. But I do know that Lucy Diamond and others have recently set something up online, as has Caroline Smailes, and Debi Alper and I both offer manuscript reading/critiquing services, so maybe you can keep it all in house, so to speak. Also there is a good organisation called Writers' Workshop that at least one of our members (Debi) works for and I may well be working for in the future. And I've heard that Arvon courses are very good.

As for "How To" books... I really enjoyed Story by Robert McKee, which is aimed at scriptwriters but also applies to novelists. He breaks down the key components in a successful story, but there's a lot more to it than that. Very good stuff (by an experienced Hollywood scriptwriter/teacher). Also 38 Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, by Jack Bickham (I may have got the title wrong but it definitely includes the number 38 and I've got the author right), was a very good no-nonsense guide by an experienced creative writing teacher.

Calistro said...

Mmmm Kir Royale and a croissant. Lovely!

I haven't done any online courses but have received critiques from WriteWords Women's Fiction group before which were helpful. Obviously the usefulness of the critique depends on the experience of the critiquer so you have to bear that in mind.

How to books? God I've got TONS! My favourite ones are on my website under the 'Writing?' link (

Fiona said...

Pain au chocolat - what a treat and no calories.

I agree with Kate about the OU174. I really enjoyed it and it was good to get some hard feedback.

I still like although their recent publishing project was a bit suspect.

Graeme K Talboys said...

I don't know much about courses, I'm afraid; and I'm hugely cynical about How To books as they are often the best selling thing (if not only) thing an author has written. I was asked to review one recently on screenwriting by someone who had never actually had a screenplay produced. What's that all about. Same with agents who write them. They tell you all these things you should be doing and then still go and take on really crap writers. (Can you tell the string of rejections is getting to me?)

I would recommend Peter Brook's 'The Empty Space'. Although written from his experience in theatre, it is about the dynamics of story telling and gets to the very heart of it. I'm also a fan of Joseph Meeker's 'The Comedy of Survival' which looks at literature in a different way that I have found inspiring.

Anonymous said...

Blinkin' 'eck Sheepish, you're spoiling us with all your goodies. Oh well, might as well join in and have a Kir Royale. Mmmm.

I can't help with the question about courses, I'm afraid, but I do know of one or two good "how to" books.

Wannabe a Writer? by Jane Wenham-Jones is very fun and accessible. A wealth of good tips in this one. I believe she's working on a sequel about the next steps along the publication route.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. A great comprehensive book about punctuation. Not as dry as it might seem; lot's of funny bits in it. Warning: after reading this book, you will start screaming and need therapy whenever you see bad punctuation. I personally go into a seething fit whenever I see sentences using "lol" instead of a full stop.

I'm going to buy How to Write and Sell Short Stories by Della Galton. I can't yet vouch for it myself, but I've heard lots of others recommend it.

Hope you had a great lunch.

ps. Just read Fiona's comment about YouWriteOn. Be careful. You might want to read these articles before engaging with them.

Caroline said...

Gosh - I can't help with this question, but I'll look forward to all the replies.


Debs said...

I'll never say not to a pain au chocolat, thanks, and happy first anniversary at your home.

I'm currently taking an online writing course with Sally Quilford, which I'm enjoying but don't have any experience of any others.

I can't be of any help with the How To books either, as everything I've read have already been mentioned, ie Donald Maas Story; Stephen King's On Writing', Jane Wenham-Jones, Wannabe a Writer, Della Galton's Writing Short Stories. They were all great, I just wish I could remember everything that I'd read.

KAREN said...

I'm a bit of a fan of 'how to' books too, and my current favourite is 'From First Draft to Finished Novel' by Karen S. Weisner. She appears to have written hundreds of books and seems to know her stuff!

Cathy said...

Ooh, I read this post this morning, but had to go out to a meeting so had no time to reply, now I get back to find most of my ideas have already been suggested!

The OU courses A174 and A215 are both good. I would probably recommend just saving up for A215 if you wanted to go down that route. Alternatively if you didn't mind not getting tutor and peer input, you could just buy the course book, whch is called Creative Writing: A Workbook with readings (ed) Linda Anderson.

Rowan Coleman said...

Hello all! I am sorry I don't know about online courses and I've never read a how to book, which isn't to say they aren't useful. But I do want to say I've completed the first draft of a novel. There.

Lane said...

Sorry to be late. A pain au chocolat or three would be nice, if there are any left:-)

I've never done a writing course but as for books ... I've read a few but I tend to forget all about them afterwards.
Those that I keep nearby though are Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer (written in the 30's and still fresh today) and Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing.
For more modern ones, Heather Seller's Page after Page and her second Chapter after Chapter - both good. And Sol Stein's How to Grow a Novel.
Hope you had a good lunch Sheepish.
And Rowan - yay!
Have a good week everyone.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I'm late as usual. I expect that wonderal array of food has now gone so I shall settle for a cuppa Tetley's.

I started an online course a couple of years ago, The Writers Bureau comprehensive course. Cost was £250 and you can take as long as you need which suited me fine. The only problem was the first eight of so modules were incredibly boring - for me - and didn't focus of fiction at all, mainly article writing, buying endless copies of magazines and studying. I just didn't have time and couldn't finish it. I really wish I had gone for the Story Writing course with Writers Bureau instead of the comprehensive course, it would have been much better for me. However, saying that, it did give me some experience and feedback in basic journalism.

I am currently reading a book called "How Not to Write a Novel" by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark, lent to me by a new author herself. It's very good and makes one think.

Best wishes, CJ xx

KeVin K. said...

Sorry I'm late. I'll just heat up some of yesterday's coffee in the micro.

Everything useful I know about writing I gained from the Oregon Coast Writers Workshops -- but that may be a bit far to commute and they don't have online courses.

I'm just enrolling in a Master of Fine Arts program in Charlotte, NC. It's very much not cheap and two years is not fast, but I'll have the right piece of paper to teach writing at the university level when I'm done.

When I am teaching, one of my textbooks will be Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method. Can not say enough good things about Jerry's book. Or Jerry.

I liked King's On Writing, but more because he called my uncle a "heavy hitter" among writers than anything I learned about writing. King's method of writing is not mine. (Of course, given our relative sales figures, I might want to rethink the merits of that position.)
Books that have influenced me include:
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. (The "workbook" version is an abridgement of the original's text with workbook pages and exercises added to each chapter.)
Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman. Actually a case study of how Ken Follett wrote The Man From St. Petersburg developing from original concept through final narrative outline, this is a terrific guide to structure and plot.
But hands down, I'd have to say my favorite book on writing to read, and one I do reread at least once a year, is Lawrence Block's Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. No mysticism, no art, no scanning the horizon for incoming muse; just mechanics of the business, techniques of the craft, and work ethic.

liz fenwick said...

Oh, I'm late .... sorry - rugby again. It's a holiday here so if there is any Kir left.......

No writing course to recommend but have done the prof. crit thing which is well worth while with the one.

Books - love Donald Maass and for actually writing words I loved Sol Stien's Soltions for Writers. After reading his book I really fully understood show not ell etc!

Well done for completing draft Rowan!

Un Peu Loufoque said...

Far to early for a Kir Royale for me as I have arrived very late here and have to dash out to do school run! I was interested in your questions. A lot of people I know do the OU creative writing course but I think from here in France it might be even more expensive ( well for me anyway!), I am not a fan of self help books so am no good at recommending them to you sorry!! I will be interested in what courses you find though please so keep us posted!

wordtryst said...

Nothing to contribute re courses, but am getting some great ideas from the responses.

The few books on writing that I've read were mentioned already, with one (to me) notable exception, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. It doesn't teach how to write so much as how to recognize and overcome our self-defeating attitudes and habits.