Book Notes: Back to Creative Writing School

This week a blogging friend of mine, Bridget Whelan, offered me a review copy of her first writing craft ebook recently out. And best of all – I liked what I saw, and even better – you get to grab this for a limited time, for free.

Exercises and Prompts as Regards Craft Schooling

I always missed out on the chance to attend a “proper” writing study course like an MFA or creative writing degrees etc. It has always been a matter of living in the wrong parts of a country, or countries that don’t actually have affordable full year-on courses in writing, or having day jobs and timings that meant I could rarely make study timings or sessions. Despite living in the UK for over a decade (which is where Bridget hails from, by the way), I never had the opportunity of taking on any of the many writer’s residence courses, big retreats or university study sessions available to such a large population base.

For me, improving my own writing knowledge has had to be a matter of sometimes intense self-study, and taking quick and affordable courses over the internet. Which is why I love reading writing craft magazines and books, and have a huge collection of them.

But before I go onto what I consider the good points of this book, I have to explain – I don’t normally like writing prompt or exercise books. Shocker, I know. This goes to the extent that I avoid taking on courses or buying books where I know the author or tutor is going to expect some creative writing homework as a response to their exercises.

That’s because I normally have no problems in having plenty of ideas to start off stories, and generally as a novel writer – where the production is much slower – I have too many! Being forced into coming up with new ideas is an impact, not a help.

When I’m in full-flow my process in novel writing sees me doing a proper rough outline and pre-writing, so once into the actual novel draft, I rarely have a need to get further inspired, and doing writing warm-up exercises first thing in the morning take me out of that novel world rather than get me back into it.  That’s just me, as a writer. I normally have no problems with motivating or inspiring ideas out of me.

Normally being the operative word. Because the NaNoWriMo round this month has scarpered my own process. My attempts at short fiction faulted when I ran out of ideas, and moving onto a fun – but unprepped novel where I am forced to act as a pantser has now staggered to a slow stop in the middle act, thwarted with that same lack of inspiration many other NaNoWriMo participants have wailed against year on year. Suddenly I’ve been facing mornings where I don’t feel passionate about getting started writing, simply out of lack of inspiration or ideas. It’s so not me as a writer, normally.

So, Bridget’s new book came at exactly the right time (I do love when kizmet happenings do that).

Back to Creative Writing School by Bridget Whelan

Back to Creative Writing SchoolBook Notes:

  • Structured like a full year’s writing course – Term 1 to Term 3 (I loved that I could pretend to be back at school). Note: we have 4 terms around here now, so going by the Aussie schooling system, Bridget’s giving us a whole term off! Wahooo – party!
  • There is an end of year assessment, but this back matter section is really a full-on tutoring of how to write a book review.
  • There is also a recommended reading section which contains several good British writing craft books (and some of the typical American ones you would expect).
  • Each term has 10 exercises or lessons to generate a writing piece from. This “writing” concept is important – see below quote.
  • Using the word “prompt” misrepresents these, though – this book does not contain a big list of 100’s of prompts or exercises in short sentences or paragraphs. Each lesson can take several pages – the author, who tutors creative writing in the UK, provides a discussion of an element of writing, then an exercise-sometimes more than one- is provided.
  • You can follow term by term, or duck and dive through the lessons.
  • The author recommends one thing – if you do start an exercise, you must finish it (there are too many half-started story ideas hanging around in everyone’s cabinets or heads).

Quote from book:

From the introduction and explanation for Back to Creative Writing School:

This book is about writing. 

About defeating the blank page. It’s about taking risks, experimenting, giving yourself the freedom to make mistakes. It’s about finding ideas and developing them.
Weaving stories in your head while you travel to work or sit daydreaming is not writing. Something happens when you put words into the hard concrete of type or the softer clay of pen or pencil.

My Takeaways

I thoroughly enjoyed the fun exercises, one of which I randomly chose and offered me a way on with my stuck novel for NaNoWriMo this month. Yay me! Or should I say, yay Bridget and the book.

My biggest takeaway came, however, from the above introductory quote – that weaving stories in our head while I travel or sit daydreaming is not writing. Unfortunately, this was exactly my problem with my stuck YA novel – it’s built on dialog between mother and daughter, but I have been finding myself coming up with full scenes of dialog and action in my head, while washing the dishes or driving to the school pickup. It’s really been frustrating as the story has built itself outside of the page, and once back at the keyboard, I’ve missed the boat, and the scene seems forced or just plain wrong.

For ideas previously, I’ve taken quick oral notes via the audio recording note facility inside Evernote mobile versions. But when it comes to full scene recording in my mind like this, I’m thinking about attempting to dictate through something like Dragon Dictate.

At least doing some of the lessons and exercises in this book has altered my perception of my story enough to allow me to continue on through the middle dumps.

I’ve not had much time with this book, and have promised myself to return to browsing it as the final days of NaNoWriMo pass.

But Wait, It’s Free!

Bridget Whelan is putting Back to Creative Writing School onto Amazon free promotion from midnight December 1st to midnight December 2nd (Pacific time).

As she says – it’s a small window of freeness, offered mainly to her writing students and writing professionals, but she wants you to know about it too.

Bookmark your diaries to pick the book up in December, or if you can’t wait – here’s the Amazon link (non-affiliate link). I’ll be posting a reminder later next week also, and hopefully soon will have Bridget on here with a guest post too.

Oh, and like she says at the back of the book, put your writing to good use, and write an Amazon review for the book too.

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